Master Your Circumstances with “A Gentleman in Moscow”
This review is taken from Women in Parking’s newsletter.
Be it 1922 in Moscow, Russia or 2018 in Los Angeles, Calif., we wake in the morning to begin a new day hopeful and jovial with tasks at hand. And then stuff happens. Events, dealings with others, life and death. Are we ruled by circumstances or do we master them?
Sometimes we are fortunate to find a book that makes us look within, ponder our reactions and decide who is a master: the circumstances or us? How do we face uncertainties when tomorrow, no matter who we are, makes no promises?
Such a joyous and inviting reflection of a novel is “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. It is a perfect summer read. It is a book that if you pick it up and spend some time with it, it will add a spring to your step and fill you with appreciation for the gift of today.
So, put on your ascot and meet Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. Enter the Metropol Hotel (which exists today, by the way). What would you do if you were to be thrown under house arrest? What is most important to you in your life? Your loved ones, experiences, learning, awe and wonder or possessions? We build our lives. Be it work or personal lives we accumulate stuff. Having a beautiful home is the American Dream.
And how lovely this home is when you get to hold on to an heirloom desk that your grandfather used. Or the sofa you just reupholstered that belonged to your parents and which holds so many beautiful memories. We human beings are a sentimental bunch. And eventually, as Towles says, “we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends.”
What if you are thrown into the river of the unknown? Will your status and your possessions be as important to you as the people who enter your life? Are you able to fall in love with uncertainty? What if fresh air or a walk down the street is beyond your reach? No, Count Rostov is not exactly in a Gulag.
At the Metropol, he can still find his beloved bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape even if the labels of thousands of bottles in the wine cellar were removed to satisfy the Bolsheviks’ equality. He can still taste his memories of Marseille with hard to find ingredients and cook bouillabaisse. He can get his weekly haircut and shave from the best barber in Moscow. And he can dine in the best restaurant in the city.
Yet, it is all about a freedom of the soul and freedom of the mind. And wisdom. Alexander Rostov is wise. He knows that change is inexorable, and that change requires change from within. “It is the business of the times to change, Mr. Halecki. And it is the business of gentleman to change with them.” It is this willingness to adjust and to change that makes Count Rostov the most lovable.
He is a voracious reader of the classics. Be it Shakespeare, Dickens or Montaigne. He believes in education, especially in self education. Education is one of the roads to appreciating life and living. “… what I meant that education will give you a sense of the world’s scope, of its wonders, of its many and varied ways of life.”
Albeit Alexander Rostov is under house arrest, yet he is free. He adjusts to the circumstances and masters them. The chains of communism imprison myriad characters in the book but they don’t enslave him. In the past he came from a perspective that “it is not a business of gentlemen to have occupation.” When he becomes a “Non Person”, he takes a job as a waiter. Because it is his “occupation” that nourishes his freedom.
Albeit Alexander Rostov is under house arrest, yet he is free.
This 32 year long tale shows us that the human spirit cannot be defeated by circumstances. That though everything can be taken from us, no one can break our spirit unless we allow it.
While reading it, I kept thinking about the words of Victor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And this applies to all the people in “A Gentleman in Moscow” and especially to the hotel itself.
The Metropol is a real hotel in the heart of Moscow that was built in 1905. It was designed in a tradition of other grand hotels in the world such as the Plaza in New York, The Ritz in Paris, and Claridge’s in London. After the revolution, the hotel continued to exist as an oasis of luxury and even freedom.
Many writers, thinkers and artists such as John Steinbeck, e. e. cummings and Lillian Hellman visited the Metropol. If you venture to their official web site, you can discover more about this historical hotel as well as “go on a journey in footsteps of Count Rostov.” And you can discover the Metropol’s slogan: “Connecting the past and the future.” As the three decades of Alexander Rostov’s life connect in Amor Towles novel. This summer, pick up Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow.” Befriend Alexander Rostov and get to know you. You will be changed from the first page and your work and personal life will be transformed. In the least, you will meet a new friend with whom you will click immediately.
This is a book where you will want to put your watch away and simply be and enjoy the unfolding of a glorious life. The beauty of life and the magnificence of friendship “has never been governed by the passage of time.” It is about being first. If “we preserve and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity … as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we have been meant to lead all along.”
Astrid Ambroziak is editor of parknews.biz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Library of Congress Cataloguing – in – Publication Data
Names: Towles, Amor, author
Title: A gentleman in Moscow/ Amor Towles
Description: New York : Vikings, 2016
Identifieres: LCCN 2016030082 / ISBN 9780670026197 (hardcover)
Copyright @ 2016 by Cetelogy, Inc.