A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Keywords: historical fiction, Russia, 1922-1954, the Metrepol Hotel, friends that are also family it’s hard to tell, beautiful
First line: At half past six on the twenty-first of June 1922, when Count Alexander Illyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool.
Last line: And there in the corner, at a table for two, her hair tinged with gray, the willowy woman waited.
Before the aforementioned first line of this book, there’s a map of Moscow (I know some people love maps in books), a poem (of which I now understand the significance of but still not the meaning), and a court transcript.
I had to read the court transcript twice. To my Russian-illiterate eyes, the last names blended together with their v’s and y’s, and then combined with the typewriter font, I was quite confused. But after I realized who was saying what and what they were saying, it was over. I was done for. It was the writing that got me, the characters that made me fall in love, and the plot that made the whole endeavor worthwhile.
I can’t explain how beautiful the sentences in this book are. Just watch, here’s a description of two dogs chasing a cat: For just as the wolfhounds registered the cat’s reversal and attempted to turn, the lobby’s expansive oriental carpet came to an end, and the dog’s momentum sent them skidding across the marble into the luggage of an arriving guest. With an advantage over his adversaries of a hundred feet, Kutuzov skipped up the first few steps of the staircase, paused for a moment to admire his handiwork, then disappeared around the corner.
And it’s like that, sentence after sentence for four hundred sixty-two pages!
To you, the idea of such a book might sound horrid—and I understand. Isn’t it slightly pompous to use so many words to describe one, possibly irrelevant moment? Maybe. But who cares?? I think it’s wondrous.
Sidenote: One page in, I remembered this book was about a man who has to stay in one hotel for the rest of his life (oh yeah, I guess I should’ve mentioned that), and I thought, why do I keep reading weirdly relevant books?
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Keywords: non-fiction, World War II, Churchill, London, Great Britain, the bombing
First line: No one had any doubt that the bombers would come.
Last line: He added beneath his name a single word: “Finis.”
Churchill is the star of this book, but not entirely. (I think he would hate that sentence.) It’s also the story of his children, his wife, his secretary, and his advisors. It’s about Londoners, Britons, Germans, and Americans. It’s a much larger picture of the Blitz than just a singular biography.
This book made me realize how insanely close Hitler was in establishing a Nazi-Europe and how Churchill was very possibly the principal reason why he didn’t. This quote from British officer Ian Jacob sums it up: “It is possible that the people would have risen to the occasion no matter who had been there to lead them, but that is speculation.”
Sidenote: This is the third time in four weeks that I talked about The Splendid and the Vile in a post.
Station Eleven by Emily by St. John Mandel
Keywords: post-apocalyptic, traveling Shakespeare and symphony troop, a terrible flu, past and present timelines
First line: The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.
Last line: He likes the thought of ships moving over the water, toward another world just out of sight.
Dystopian is not a genre I usually read in. I’m looking at my Goodreads, and the last one I picked up was Severance last year, but I only read like three pages before deciding I wasn’t going to keep going. This book is definitely dystopian, but it’s not written like most books in the genre.
It’s not action-packed. It’s not go go go. It’s literary and slightly meandering and more quiet than loud. And it’s the most realistic post-apocalyptic world I’ve ever encountered. None of the constructed societies like Hunger Games and Divergent.
Wait actually, is this book definitely dystopian if it’s not trying to be an utopia at all? You know what, I already wrote multiple sentences based on the fact that it is, and also it’s one of the genres Goodreads and Goodgle put it in, so it’s fine. Anyways yeah, this book is technically dystopian/sci-fi but reads more like a contemporary literary novel.
Sidenote: One page in, I remembered this book was about a world where the huge majority of the population has died because of an insanely contagious global pandemic, and I thought, WHY DO I KEEP READING WEIRDLY RELEVANT BOOKS??
What’s the last dystopian book you’ve read?
What are you reading right now?
Do you have any biographies to recommend?