Final Thoughts on A Gentleman in Moscow

Friday morning: It’s late in the day to sit down and type out a blog post, but I got a little sidetracked this morning. After putting a load of laundry into the washer, I decided that even though I had zero plans to be outside today, it was cold and wet, I was only sixty pages from the end of A Gentleman in Moscow, so… maybe I should spend the rest of the morning on the couch devouring this beautiful novel and blame it on the weather.

Yep, another snow day in the desert!

I think it was a good choice. I’ll do the dishes later, darn it! And I already have a plan for dinner… I do what I want!

How did I feel at end of this book? Hmm… let me see…

Not devastated. It was a bit of tear jerker toward the end, but in that “life is inevitable” kind of way. There was one line about three quarters of the way through the book that just made me gasp. Everything that had been happening suddenly came into focus and had meaning. I love books that do that.

Saturday morning: I sat down to write, looked at the book, and decided that maybe I needed a nap. I took one and I felt better. I didn’t make dinner, but no loss really. I can of chili will do.

Here I am again, late in the day. Watching the rain turn to snow… Winter’s last hurrah out here in the desert, contemplating all the weeds I’ll need to pull this spring because of all the rain this late in winter.

Let’s look at A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. That is what we came here to talk about, right?

Like I said in my first post about the book, I picked it up because I heard an interview with the author on BBC Radio last year. It’s been on my TBR shelf for a few months, and since I’m on a fiction kick at the moment, I decided to make it my next read.

How many different ways can I say I loved this book?

It started slow, and I wondered if maybe I made a mistake choosing it. It wasn’t bad, just a little wandery and I wasn’t seeing why I was reading the story of Rostov, other than to see a person (or Former Person as they call him) attempting to make the best of a life limited to a one hundred square foot attic room in a formerly fancy hotel in Revolutionary Russia.

That’s one of my favorite era’s to read about the past few years, and it all started when I read my first Russian Literature book, War & Peace back in 2017. Oh, wow… I went back to my old blog and found my notes. Makes me want to read it again. Ahh… if only life were longer, or if while you were reading a book time stood still. There’s a sci-fi story idea!

There’s a lot to learn from this era, much of which could be applied to life today. I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve ever considered reading War & Peace, but thought it was too daunting a task, let me encourage you to give it a try. It’s a beautiful story.

Hmm… maybe I’ll go back and rewrite those notes for a new post here. It would be like re-reading but with less time invested. A possibility.

I posted a few quotes from the book on my Instagram profile along with my daily sunrise photo, if you’re interested in check them out.

I loved the way Amor Towles wrote in a similar style as a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. The book had a “classic” feel but wasn’t nearly as complicated. The way he wrapped Rostov’s life into the history of the era, highlighting how the events affected his life, how it changed him (and his world) in positive and in negative ways.

Here’s something I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it:

Rostov’s father commissioned a “twice-tolling clock” in 1882 that Rostov had been able to keep when he was put on house (or hotel, in this case) arrest.

“Why would he do so?” asked the Count (in anticipation of his young listener’s favorite interrogative.)

“Quite simply, the Count’s father had believed that while a man should attend closely to life, he should not attend too closely to the clock. A student of both the Stoics and Montaigne, the Count’s father believed that our Creator had set aside the morning hours for industry. That is, if a man woke no later than six, engaged in a light repast, and then applied himself without interruption, by the hour of noon he should have accomplished a full day’s labor.

“Thus, in his father’s view, the toll of twelve was a moment of reckoning. When the noon bell sounded, the diligent man could take pride in having made good use of the morning and sit down to his lunch with a clear conscience.”

“And the second chime?

“The Count’s father was of the mind that one should never hear it. If one had lived one’s day well – in the service of industry, liberty, and the Lord – one should be soundly asleep long before twelve.”

This is something I’ve used in my own life for many years; setting aside part of the day (usually early morning) for the “work” I’ve chosen to do. Once that time is up, I set the work aside and move on to my “regular chores,” the housework mostly. By the early afternoon, I can spend my time reading or crafting until I make dinner, not that I’m retired, but before that I’d spend it doing things with and for my kids. Then there’s dinner to be made and I usually watch a few tv shows with my husband before bed.

But then I think, Rostov’s father could live this way because he was an aristocrat. He had servants to take care of the mundane, all-day, kind of tasks like housekeeping and cooking. The Count had his own responsibilities, of course. He had contracts to look over and sign, people to pacify, decisions to make, but he could do all of that within a morning’s work, much like I do, because he had servants. I don’t have them, but I do have something better: technology. The grocery store, the internet, the appliances, all serve in place of the work it used to take to run a household. And my husband works a job that pays our bills, so I’m not responsible for that end either.

I’m an aristocrat of our own time. Hmm… that’s a little scary when I think of how many other ways our own time mirrors Revolutionary Russia.

That’s why I loved this book. It made me think. It vilified no one, and it made no one a hero. It just shed light on a scene and let me make my own connections, and not only about history and politics. Friendship, love, and parenting came into play that brought tears to my eyes more than once, not that that’s hard to do with me.

Here are a few more quotes I adored:

“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 is life. Romance novels (and movies) give you the idea that life has these sudden shifts, blinding light or crashes that make you stop and realize that everything is different now. This is why I don’t like them. This is a bit of my current experiment with It Ends With Us leaking into this post. Reality is a slow evolution of thought and change, the old “boiling the frog” analogy. Suddenly, there you are in a totally different place and wondering how you got there.

“When he was done with the map, the Count went to his study and retrieved his father’s copy of Montaigne’s Essays from the bookcase where it had resided in comfort ever since Sofia had liberated it from under the bureau. Taking the book back to the Grand Duke’s desk, the Count began turning through the pages, stopping here and there to read the passages his father had underlined.”

And this is why I annotate my books. The next reader, my children, maybe even my grandchildren, will know a little bit about me from these notes and highlights. It’s a message in the bottle to the future.

“For it is the role of the parent to express his concerns and then take three steps back. Not one, mind you, not two, but three. Or maybe four. (But by no means five.) Yes, a parent should share his hesitations and then take three or four steps back, so that the child can make a decision for herself – even when that decision may lead to disappointment.”

THIS is why I especially loved this book. It wasn’t just about history, life was wrapped up in it in small ways that made you identify with and love every character. I learned from some, commiserated with others, and wanted to sit and chat over a cup of coffee with others still. That’s my definition of a great book!

Did I love this one? Most certainly. Even though it is a modern novel, it has the potential to be a classic in my opinion. I highly recommend reading it, and then read Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. You will NOT regret it!

Interested in my first thoughts about this book? Click back to New Read: A Gentleman in Moscow.

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