Book 32: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) by Amor Towles is about a Russian count who is sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a hotel. Very reminiscent of Julian in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, or the recent Saudi hostage situation in the Ritz.

According to the Washington Post: “the novel offers more high tea than high adventure, but this is a story designed to make you relax, to appreciate your surroundings, to be a person on whom nothing is lost”.

However, bear in mind that the author of this Washington Post article is a white man who fell in love with the main character and proceeded to “wear an ascot and affect a brittle chuckle around the house until my wife told me to cut it out”. So, take his gleaming review with a grain of salt. Or an entire salt shaker.

That’s what I read an thought before delving into this tome, and for the most part I was right. It is incredibly white cracker all the way. But sometimes, I like to snack on crackers and cheese, so in spite of being so plain, white man, I loved this book.

“If patience wasn’t so easily tested, then it would hardly be a virtue”

I like the old school charm, elegance and refinement. I like that it’s calm and teaches me to be patient – something I lack, being part of the instant gratification generation.

“For it is a fact that a man can be profoundly out of step with his times”

I was actually pleasantly surprised by this book. It made me laugh. It’s not dramatic, tragic, romantic or action-filled but I’m not complaining. It was a good break from the high intensity books I usually read. However, it inevitably gets stale at times and I can’t say that Russian history is terribly captivating to me. However, I enjoyed reading this, The Bear and the Nightingale Trilogy, watching Anna Karenina as performed by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg all during Qatar’s Russian Year of Culture. I felt very in the mood, and I feel like I learned about a Russian spirit I never have before. I still have a few Russian-penned tomes on my to-read list (I had planned to get through Lolita, Master & Margarita and re-read Crime and Punishment, but maybe I’ll leave those for when I try and plan a visit to Moscow or St. P).

“But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness”

This book, like these photos, is an exercise in perspective. We meet a man sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a hotel battle ennui, battle the urge to commit suicide, and strive to find purpose and routine in order to keep moving forward in his life. What I love about this book is how it teaches us to look for small pleasures, details and drive in the mundane (the taste of honey, a smooth haircut, meeting a new friend). Strength of character and resolve are things I admired. But it also takes a lot of patience to go through this book, there are a lot of slow parts and it was more a pleasant journey than a mind blowing experience.
Moral of the story: When your environment constrains you, free your thoughts ❤️

“It is our friends who should overestimate our capacities. They should have an exaggerated opinion of our moral fortitude, our aesthetic sensibilities, and our intellectual scope. Why, they should practically imagine us leaping through a window in the nick of time with the works of Shakespeare in one hand and a pistol in the other!”

I love the little nuggets of wisdom that are scattered throughout the pages. Take the quote above for example. This is exactly how I see all the beautiful, smart and charismatic women in my life. It reminded me to feel super proud and thankful. I didn’t shed any tears, and it was refreshing seeing someone calm and positive in the face of a problem. This book was insanely quotable. At the book club meeting all we did was recite our favourite quotes to each other (which is not a method we’ve ever used before).

“-While I was biding my time in Paris, my sister died…

– Of a broken heart?

-Young women only die of broken hearts in novels, Charles. She died of scarlet fever”

This is my favourite quotes of the book so far. Not only because I never fail to crack up (cc: Charles, you idiot) but also because it’s a subtle reminder that no one dies of a broken heart. That women are not defined by romance. And that life always goes on… except for when you contract scarlet fever.
So thank you, next.



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