“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

I have finally managed to finish another read on my quest to reading more books this year and this time it was “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. I heard about this book for a while and also my co-worker Chrissie recommended it to me so this enticed me enough to add it to my reading list.

“A Gentleman in Moscow” is a novel that is set in Russia shortly after the Revolution when Stalin came to power and promised to transform the country from the agrarian society to the industrialized one. This implied many things including stripping of properly and either killing or sentencing anyone who belonged to the old nobility. One of these people was the Count Alexander Rostov who was sentence to the house arrest in the Metropol Hotel – one of the biggest and finest hotels in Russia. From there starts the story of his almost 30 years of confinement in the hotel. During that time, he meets a young orphan named Sofia whom he brings up as his daughter… I am going to stop covering the plot at this point to not reveal too much for those who would like to read the book themselves.

I have to be honest – I did have a bit of trouble getting into the book and it took me a good 100 pages to really start being lured into the story. In spite of that, I must compliment the author on the historical background knowledge and research as the book is not only well written, it is written quite factually with many truthful details, specifically culture details (as an Eastern European I could see that very well). Another aspect of the book that I liked was the writing – it was not simple, it was indeed complex but I liked how it made me reflect. In fact, I often caught myself thinking that the style often reminded me of Russian classics such as Tolstoy or Dostoevskiy.

Lastly, the characters in the book were splendid – so sophisticatedly drafted. I can not recollect how each of the characters looked but I can easily remember their characters for each of them stood out very distinctively.

***

As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade. We are familiar with the songs our grandparents favoured, after all, even though we never danced to them ourselves. As festive holidays, the recipes we pull from the drawer are routinely decades old, and in some cases even written in hand of a relative long since dead. And the objects in our homes? The oriental coffee tables and well-worn desks that have been handed down from generation to generation? Despite being “out of fashion”, not only they add beauty to our daily lives, they lend material credibility to our presumption that the passing of an era will be glacial.

***

Rather, the passage of those years was like the turn of a kaleidoscope. At the bottom of a kaleidoscope’s cylinder lie shards of colored glass in random arrangement; but thanks to a glint of sunlight, the interplay of mirrors, and the magic of symmetry, when one peers inside what one finds is a pattern so colorful, so perfectly intricate, it seems certain to have been designed with the utmost care. Then by the slightest turn of the wrist, the shards begin to shift and settle into a new configuration – a configuration with its own symmetry of shapes, its own intricacy of colors, its own hints of design,

***

Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve – if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew. And yet, for the Count, when the doors to Anna’s bedroom opened and Sofia stepped forward in her gown, at that very moment she crossed the threshold into adulthood. On one side of that divide was a girl of five or ten or twenty with a quiet demeanor and a whimsical imagination who relied upon him for companionship and counsel; while on the other side was a young woman of discernment and grade who need rely on no one but herself.

***

When reading the novel, I thought of the words by Ayn Rand that go along the lines (I can’t find the exact quotation now) that she did not write for her work to last for a year, she wrote it to last for decades. “A Gentleman in Moscow” certainly gave me an impression of those works that would last for decades.

One Comment

  1. Chrissie

    That book even changed the way I order my food — creating a flow of palate changes to optimize the experience 🙂 So many gems in there. I might have to buy it. Glad you ended up liking it.

    Like

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