Winter Reading in small pieces/ A Gentleman in Moscow
(excerpts edited to 25 seconds for broadcast)
Frequently, when manual chores call for something a little more heady or entertaining to pass time I’ll listen to an audio book. There are some that because of the narrator’s accent or tone are even more pleasure than resting with the printed page.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Tolwes is one of those books. Readers meet Count Alexander Rostov who is confined to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. He received this sentence because according to the new, Bolshevik regime in 1922 he was an “unrepentant aristocrat.” After sentencing he was classified, a “former person”. I couldn’t believe a book about one man with a life sentence to stay in a hotel could be so interesting, humorous, and even exciting in parts.
Early in the novel when the Count meets a visiting glamorous film star, Anna Urbanova, he reflects on some simple universal truths. Anna talked about growing up in a remote Russian village helping her fisherman father mend his nets.
“And as she talked, the count had to acknowledge once again the virtues of withholding judgment. After all, what can a first impression tell us about some one we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli! By their very nature human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration, and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
Even though the setting of A Gentleman in Moscow might seem limited because of being only inside one hotel, the characters the Count meets, and the ways his own circumstances change reinforce his learning time and again about first impressions. In just one more segment with small pieces from the story, I hope listeners will get a flavor of how enriching listening can be, whether to a pod cast, and audiobook, or even your local community radio station. For part 2 please stay tuned to AMR.
In part one of this pair of stories about the book, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I mentioned how using audio books has helped pass many cold, wintry hours while doing what are considered the important things, like dishes and laundry. Count Alexander Rostov received a life sentence of house arrest to the Metropol hotel in Moscow. At the 1922 tribunal where the Bolsheviks understood he would never apologize for being an aristocrat, he was told if he ever left the hotel, he’d be shot.
Over his years of confinement the Count meets many interesting people, some young and some old. After Anna Urbanova, a visiting star, falls out of grace with The Bolsheviks, her movie career falters. The low-born lady, and the gracious Count have something in common which, according to him, can only be understood by those who have lived it.
“When one experiences a profound setback in the course of an enviable life, one has a variety of options spurred by shame. One may attempt to hide all evidence of the change in one’s circumstances. Thus the merchant who has gambled away his savings will hold onto his finer suits until they fray, and tell anecdotes from the halls of the private club where his membership has long since lapsed. In a state of self pity, one may retreat from the world in which one has been blessed to live; thus the long-suffering husband, finally disgraced by his wife in society may be the one who leaves his home in a small dark apartment on the other side of town, or like the Count and Anna, one may simply join the Confederacy of the Humbled.”
Over and over author, Amor Towles, draws the reader into the limited world of house arrest, and actually left me feeling like I’d like to stay there.
Whether or not this admirable character escapes, ends up being just a small part of the huge story.
“Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close knit brotherhood. Whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace those in the Confederacy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy, or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condescension with an inward smile.” This pair of stories, with memorable passages from A Gentleman n Moscow could be the first in a collection of those listeners suggest. If you have a book you’d like to recommend for a “Books Aloud” news piece, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org