Tuesday, September 5, 2017
The Book Review Club - A Gentleman in Moscow
Picasso had a blue phase (and a red one). As far as reading choices go, I've had a down under, a WW II, and now, mysteriously, a "communist" phase (is this what happens when your first leave the nest?).
Without realizing it, I picked out both a book to read and listen to set during communist periods--one in Russia and one in China. The one in China is achingly well-written, but since I've had about all the ache I can handle (again, see: first one leaving the nest), I am writing about the more upbeat, A Gentleman In Moscow. However, should you feel a communist phase coming on and need reinforcements, check out: Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien. So, so good.
Towles starts his tale with a verdict, a grim one. No, not firing squad (I did promise more upbeat). The year is 1922. The Bolshviks are firmly rooted in power. The old guard is slowly being weeded out, banished, "relieved of their duties" (okay, yes, there is some firing squad-ing going on, but it's off stage) to rid Russia of its entrenched aristocracy.
Except for one Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is, surprisingly, a Bolshevik sympathizer. His 1913 poem decrying the crushing of the 1905 revolt proves this beyond doubt. However, he seems to have since been poisoned by his royal blood, and while a firing squad truly seems the only way to deal with this "lost" sympathizer, there are those within the new regime that see he is spared, albeit banished within his own country, to the Hotel Metropole to be exact, to live out his days in a cramped former servant's quarters on the six floor.
And so begins an adventure that only twice leaves the confines of the hotel, and yet is ripe to bursting with love, loss, despair, parenthood, friendship, grace, espionage, so many things not even Count Rostov himself could ever have imagined, banished to a hotel in the middle of Moscow where he can only see the world he loves so dearly revolving around him, until he finally, for a love even deeper than country, risks it all.
Don't worry, I won't give away the ending. But it is REALLY good. What I loved so much about this book is Towles' mastery of phrase, unique manner of revealing the world through the eyes of his characters, and yes, all things Russian. It's a hidden world to me, one far more profound and complex and rich that Towles introduces with promise of so much more beneath, driving it all.
Although Towles begins with Rostov's statement that all poetry is "a call to arms", this book isn't the call you might be expecting. It is a call to hope, to love, to love even the most wayward, decrepit, seemingly fiendish of all, the enemy who has condemned him. No matter when I stopped listening, I felt uplifted, refreshed, dare I say, hopeful. It's something I feel as if we have all had so precious little of of late, and yet that we need to reaffirm and embrace anew what binds us all.
So, if you're feeling like hope, like believing in the silver lining again, pick up Towles book, enjoy the layers of meaning and discovery as rich and surprising as that great Russian stew, borscht, itself.
And then daintily dab your lips and take a gander down the smorgasbord of Fall delights laid out in all their splendor on Barrie Summy's website. Naslazhdat'sya! Enjoy!