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!