Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Upon the first last Thursday of the New Year, ten aging Whites briefly escaped their self-imposed exile in single dwellings throughout this ancient city and descended upon the Boyarsky of the Sandias, aka the Greenside Cafe of Cedar Crest. They luxuriated among the sounds therein characterized by fits of laughter, a melange of languages, toxic masculinity and the clinking of glasses. Once again they feasted upon bouillabaisse with just a touch of saffron and some green chile stew. Following this treat, Prof. Ferrell juggled oranges, and all hoisted a jigger of absinthe to those departed souls prior to heading East by Northeast in a small convoy toward Canyon Ridge Drive.  Within the convoy, several opinions could be overheard: 

Mike:  So much to talk about and consider with this book.  I was put off that he started with the Eric Hoffer story ("The True Believer", 1951) of choosing the thickest book in the library for winter reading and coming up with Michel Montaigne's philosophy. From Wikipedia, see if you spot a parallel:
  In 1931, [Hoffer] considered suicide by drinking a solution of oxalic acid, but he could not bring himself to do it.  He left Skid Row and became a migrant worker, following the harvests in California. He acquired a library card where he worked, dividing his time "between the books and the brothels." He also prospected for gold in the mountains. Snowed in for the winter, he read the Essays by Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne impressed Hoffer deeply, and Hoffer often made reference to him. He also developed a respect for America's underclass, which he said was "lumpy with talent."
 A coincidence? no, this reeked of plagiarism.  However, there was much to commend the book for, including the sequences of the Count with a young girl.  So good with Nina, it was delightful to get a different view with Sofia.  Overall, can't be A+ but can be in the A category.

Charlie:  What's not to like?  Many of us have become sloppy sentimental fools.  Most of the characters were admirable.  I enjoyed the quality of the writing.  A

Tom G:  I can only hope to be as memorable a character to my daughter.  I loved the Casablanca references.  Solid A.  Very 'sweet' book.

Bob W:  Yes, a good solid A.  One thing I would say that is meant as a compliment:  It really is a 'nice' book:  no overdone sex or violence.  Sympathetic characters.

Jack F:  I will start with the negatives.  One end of the pendulum's swing.  There were too many excesses, too many pages, words, characters, digressions.  Sometimes the footnotes were too cute.  I had the feeling the author was showing off, too flowery.  On the flip side:  I enjoyed the author's use of humor to include the Count's frequent verbal excesses.  Towles' knowledge of music may account for his use of leitmotif to identify many of the colorful characters which populate the novel, which I found delightful.  Bothered sometimes by what on the surface appeared to be Towles showing off, after finishing the novel I believe he may have been using form to reinforce content.  A-

Dick J:  There were at least 30 major characters.  I read this book when it first came out.  I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it now.  The Ending was well done?  A-

Ken G:  I wish I had kept a list of the characters.  I started reading it 3 or 4 weeks ago, had to stop, and when I came back 3 days ago, I found myself asking, "Who are these guys?"  One thing that bothered me is that he used lbs and inches, when he should be using metric for Russia.  It was kinda lonely at times.  A-

Rob E:  The book captured me - I especially enjoyed the committee wordsmithing the constitution:  should we use one verb or two here?  I've been in many meetings like that.  Some of his writing was tremendous:  "With respect to concision, the male of the species is endowed with a pair when a single would suffice."  As I was reading in a doctor's office, a woman came by and said, "How far have you read?  It will get better!"  And sure enough, the Count challenged the Bishop.  Another phrase I loved:  "My goat is not gotten!"  My idea of an A+ book is Grapes of Wrath, but as an Okie, this came close:  A

Karl:  The first time I read this book, I found myself savoring it. On my second reading, I'd intended to be more analytical, but gave up pretty early on and just enjoyed it. I did, however, take a lot of notes -- mostly writing down phrases or descriptions that I thought clever. There were a plethora of them. Absolutely outstanding writing, good story, engaging characters, wonderful humor. I spent the past three weeks trying to assess this book relative to all that I remember reading over the years and relative to the LTBC's ranking of books. I've read none better.  A+

... and from well outside of the Garden Ring:
Dear all,
  I will not be joining you next Thursday due to a prior engagement that I committed to years ago, namely the Taos Winter Wine Festival’s Thursday night Reserve Tasting. I shall miss our discussion greatly, because I really enjoyed this book. I am attracted to an urbane, civil gentleman inhabiting a splendid hotel more than soldiers fighting for their lives in an nihilistic saga of war or even a fellow New Mexican living the rough and tumble life of a cowboy in Northeastern New Mexico.
  I found the plot impressive rather than gimmicky: an aristocrat who survived the Revolution by being condemned to internal exile in a grand hotel in Moscow. Instead of withering under this constriction, the Count adapts and adjusts to his captivity and everything he needs to survive elegantly in the style of life to which he is accustomed magically comes to him. As his old friend Mishka said, “You are the luckiest man in Russia”; a beautiful starlet as a lover, a loving and talented raised daughter, support from the ruling commissars, a decent living provided by performing a task for which he was bred, serving fabulous meals and wines in an elegant restaurant in a grand hotel. While outside the sanctuary of the hotel some of the worse deprivations of the 20th century are being inflicted upon millions of his countrymen, dying or their lives shattered from government oppression under Stalin’s rule, such as being sent to Siberia or being summarily executed.
I found the book to be very readable and well written. I chose to read it and enjoy it, rather than trying to decipher by what means a specific group of chronological vignettes was identified as a Book, which I never figured out. Based upon my reading of the first 352 pages, I give the book a solid A. The Rules of Civility by Towles has definitely been added to my book list.

  With Mike’s encouragement I also would like to explain why I missed the December meeting. I have written down my experiences beginning on Thursday, December 19, 2018 and lasting through December 24, 2018. To make a long story short, it was a Christmas miracle that I made it home by Christmas Eve and that I am able to write this letter to you today. Bob

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