Monday, January 9, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles, Part 1

There's only been 1 time where I have divided a review into 2 parts (Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande - 12/9 & 12/13/15).  Now there will be a 2nd time.  A Gentleman in Moscow is a really difficult book to review. On the one hand, it is as well-written a book as I have ever read. Literally every word is perfect.  And the way he combines 2 or 3  or 4 elements into 1 sentence is crazy-good.  On the other hand, it is so well-written that it is the antithesis of a page-turner.  You have to read every word. Anybody who has followed my reviews for any length of time (my 6-year anniversary comes up 1 week from today!) knows that I am the poster child for non/un-literary books.  In fact, prior to AGiM, the closest to literary I ever get was Pat Conroy.  He was and is probably the epitome of the combination of great writing and readability.

So why am I making such a fuss over this one?  Because it's just so darn well done.  And why am I dividing the review into 2 parts?  Because I just have to quote several passages.  So bear with me.  I'm about 90 pages from the end, and I will give you details in Part 2.  But for this one, I'm going to give you a few examples of Towles' writing.  Take a look at what I mean by how well-written this book is:

...the Bolsheviks assembled whenever possible in whichever form for whatever reason.  In a single week, there might be committees, caucuses, colloquiums, congresses, and conventions variously coming together to establish codes, set courses of action, levy complaints, and generally clamor about the world's oldest problems in its newest nomenclauture.  (This book starts shortly after the revolution in 1917.)

...If they (ghosts) wander the halls of night, it is not from a grievance with or envy of the living.  Rather, it is because they have no desire to see the living at all.  Any more than snakes hope to see gardeners, or foxes the hounds.  They wander about at midnight because at that hour they can generally do so without being harried by the sound and fury of earthly emotions.  After all those years of striving and struggling, of hoping and praying, of shouldering expectations, stomaching opinions, navigating decorum, and making conversation, what they seek, quite simply, is a little peace and quiet.

Even as he turned the little handle (a coffee grinder) round and round, the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep.  As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the unsubstantiality of its domain.

With the instincts of convicts who discover the gates of their prison open, the individual oranges rolled in every direction to maximize their chances of escape.  In a flash, Andrey had extended his arms in a grand circumference to fence them in.  But one of the oranges dodged the maitre d's reach and shot across the counter - headed straight for the absinthe!  Dropping his chopper, Emile lunged and plucked the glass from the counter in the nick of time.  The orange, which was gaining in confidence, dashed behind the fennel, jumped from the counter, thudded to the floor that separated Emile's kitchen from the rest of the world swung inward, sending the orange spinning back across the floor in the opposite direction.

Do you see what I'm talking about?  The writing is insane.  But it's so good that you have to take the time (sometimes twice) to really read the words.  All in all, I would say that it is an effort well worth taking.


  1. The writing is wonderful and this is a book I want to read.

    1. I just finished it. And it is definitely worth it.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I'll read another book at the same time when I read a literary book just to have a break from having to think so darn hard. I'm not sure this one is for me.

    1. I understand where you're coming from. But I will also say that if you decide to read it, you won't be sorry.