Welcome to the second installment of BookGRoup, our virtual book club. We will choose the book and offer some thoughts and discussion questions to consider however you wish! Our hope is that you will find this an easy, no-stress forum to learn more about a book you may have enjoyed or still plan to read, and to share your thoughts about our selection.
What motivated this month’s choice
When the Library closed after March 14 and our social distancing began in earnest, who would have imagined that we still would be self-quarantining in May? Thinking about our relative confinement made me revisit A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. First published in September, 2016, Gentleman tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat sentenced to house arrest at the hotel Metropol in Moscow. Gentleman was on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list for 59 weeks and clearly captivated its audience; this made me wonder how Rostov’s 30 years in a hotel would compare to our pandemic experience at home.
In 1922, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, Count Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat for writing a counter-revolutionary poem and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the historic Metropol. Banished from the luxurious suite he previously had occupied, Rostov now must make do in a small attic room. While he has the run of the hotel -- which contains everything from a florist to a barber shop -- he will be shot if he sets foot outside its doors.
Rostov is charming and erudite, with apparently endless knowledge about literature, music, and food. While history unfolds outside the hotel, Rostov strives to maintain his daily routine and becomes intimately familiar with every part of the hotel. He befriends the staff, forms meaningful relationships both with a visiting actress and a spirited young girl, and takes pleasure in endeavors like creating the perfect bouillabaisse with the chef and maitre d’. Although he has some melancholy moments, Rostov mostly remains upbeat and chooses to follow the maxim “if one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them.”
Other books you may like
Books about confinement feel extremely relevant these days. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, the young narrator chooses to put herself in a year-long, chemically-induced hibernation at her apartment in pre-9/11 New York City. The narrator in The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn is an alcoholic agorophobe who obsessively watches her neighbors from the window of her Harlem brownstone.
Feeling the urge to travel through your reading? In Julia Child’s 2006 memoir My Life in France, the memorable chef recounts her love affair with both France and French cooking. For a very different sort of travel experience, try Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which traces the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze from Nigeria to America and back again.
And stay tuned for the release of Gentleman as a limited TV series starring Kenneth Branagh!
About the Virtual Book GRoup
Welcome to our new, virtual book club: BookGRoup! We will choose the book and offer some discussion questions, but the rest is up to you! Our hope is that you will find this an easy, no-stress forum to learn more about a book you may have enjoyed or still plan to read, and to share your thoughts about our selection.
Many fellow readers have mentioned how difficult it is to concentrate on reading these days in a world that at times may seem stranger than fiction. In BookGRoup, we will escape into new literary landscapes while enjoying (socially-distant!) company and discussion.
What motivated our choice
Our inaugural selection is Where the Crawdads Sing, the debut novel of Delia Owens, a retired wildlife biologist. Crawdads transports the reader to the remote coastal marshes of North Carolina, a lush and wild setting completely different from our own beautiful town. First published in the summer of 2018 with a small printing of 28,000 copies, by the end of 2019, Crawdads had sold more print copies than any other adult title that year. While hugely loved and embraced by book clubs including Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Club, the charms of the novel largely eluded this reader, who is curious to hear what you thought!
At age ten, Kya Clark is abandoned by her family and forced to raise herself in the North Carolina swamp. Isolated from the nearby fishing village and known and ostracized as the mysterious “Marsh Girl,” Kya attends school for only one day. But she learns from the wildlife around her both how to avoid the school truant officers and how to feed herself. She earns money by selling mussels and fish to a kindly storekeeper named Jumpin’. She also collects shells, feathers, bones and nests, and eventually becomes a talented naturalist and artist. When Kya becomes a teenager, two very different young men enter her life: gentle Tate, who teaches Kya how to read; and town playboy Chase, who pursues her for her beauty.
The story actually begins with a flash forward to 1969, when Chase is found dead. Locals immediately suspect the Marsh Girl, and Kya is put on trial for Chase’s murder. The book travels back and forth in time between Kya’s childhood, the trial, and beyond.
Discussion questions - What are your thoughts? Comment below.
Other books you may like
The marsh becomes almost a character in Crawdads. Author Barbara Kingsolver embraces setting to a similar extent in many of her novels; in particular, the region of Appalachia is profoundly impactful in Prodigal Summer and Flight Behavior. The raw, remote beauty of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula deeply influences the characters in Disappearing Earth, the debut novel of Julia Phillips.
Owens has mentioned that her favorite book character is another strong and independent young woman: Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. More recently, Tara Westover’s memoir Educated tells the story of a fiercely determined woman who overcomes her family’s dire circumstances.