A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles (2016, Viking; 480 pages)
Some years ago, in another life as a journalist, I spent some time traveling around Europe with a plan to write a book about all the grand hotels of the continent. I stayed in quite a few, and loved every minute I spent in the rooms and lobbies of those majestic, historic hotels. So it’s no surprise that I found Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow to be a complete delight. It’s the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who, in 1922, is arrested for writing a poem deemed subversive. Tried by a Bolshevik tribunal, Rostov is sentenced to house arrest inside the Hotel Metropol, a grand Moscow hotel where movie stars and Russian royalty hobnob, where Bolsheviks plot revolutions, charming spies cast their web, politicians contrive and maneuver, and intellectuals and world travelers hold court while inventing drinks in the hotel’s sumptuous bar. If this is house arrest, sign me up!
The Count, an irrepressible gentleman of erudition and wit, makes the best of everything. Forced to move from his lavish hotel suite to a tiny attic room, he finds a way to expand his quarters into a space large enough to hold his favorite books, pieces of art, and furniture. While Rostov spends his days taking tea and supping in the hotel’s dining rooms and salons, and visiting the hotel’s barber, the tumultuous years in Russian history pass by outside the hotel’s marble walls. But through a luminous cast of characters, and one wonderfully written scene after another, the events and intrigues of the decades make their way to the Metropol. As does Nina, a precocious young genius who holds the keys to all the rooms in the hotel, who wonders what it means to be a princess, and who will inexorably change the course of the Count’s life.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel brimming with humor and suspense – all drawn out at an exquisitely leisurely pace -- and the Count is a delightful creation, a gentleman who steadfastly (and hilariously for readers) refuses to sink beneath his station – even when forced to wait tables, play hide-and-seek with children, or confront the brutish minions of the communist regime:
Prosecutor Vyshinsky: State your name.
Rostov: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.
Vyshinsky: You may have your titles; they are of no use to anyone else. But for the record, are you not Alexander Rostov, born in St. Petersburg, 24 October 1889?
Rostov: I am he.
Vyshinsky: Before we begin, I must say, I do not think that I have ever seen a jacket festooned with so many buttons.
Rostov: Thank you.
Vyshinsky: It was not meant as a compliment.
Rostov: In that case, I demand satisfaction on the field of honor.
Secretary Ignatov: Silence in the gallery.
Vyshinsky: What is your current address?
Rostov: Suite 317 at the Hotel Metropol, Moscow.
Vyshinsky: How long have you lived there?
Rostov: I have been in residence since the fifth of September 1918. Just under four years.
Vyshinsky: And your occupation?
Rostov: It is not the business of gentlemen to have occupations.
Vyshinsky: Very well then. How do you spend your time?
Rostov: Dining, discussing. Reading, reflecting. The usual rigmarole.
Vyshinsky: And you write poetry?
Rostov: I have been known to fence with a quill.
This is a book to savor, preferably while sipping an overpriced beverage in the lush lobby of a grand hotel.
Find this title in our catalog: A Gentleman In Moscow
Recommended by: Greg
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014, G.P. Putnam's Sons; 460 pages)
I first watched the TV series, and it was so good that when I picked up the book I finished it in two days. Big Little Lies is a fantastic read based on this thought-provoking sentence: "Sometimes it's the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal..."
The book is about a murder, or maybe a tragic accident, or perhaps just parents behaving badly at a party. The only indisputable fact is that someone is dead. And the question that holds the book together is "who did what?"
The book is also about the lives of three incredible characters. Three women, each one of them at a crossroads in their lives. Madeline is funny, biting, and passionate; she remembers everything and forgives no one. She doesn't forgive her ex-husband, who is now married to a new young yogi wife and whose daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline's youngest. Not a good combination for Madeline´s mood.
Then the readers meet Celeste, who is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. She seems perfect. Her husband seems to be perfect, they both look like the king and queen of the school parent body, and the fact that they are very rich doesn't hurt. They have twins who are starting school.
Finally we meet Jane, the single mom new to town, so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane carries sadness inside, and secrets too.
The book is about the friendship of these three women, and about how the arrival and her little boy Ziggy will affect them all. It is a book about ex husbands, and second wives, mothers and daughters, a schoolyard scandal, and about "the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive."
Recommended to those readers looking for a thought-provoking, complex but entertaining page-turner.
Find this title in our catalog: Big Little Lies
Recommended by: Maite