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I am a Russian and I am a historian. I had to read this book for a session of the Reading club and I was outraged at the authour's ignorance of the basic facts of Russian and European History. Let's see some examples of it. According to the book, the main protagonist of the book learned that the tsar family was in danger, and inmediately went to Russia from France. But in 1917-1918 Europe was in the fire of the Great war and nobody could pass from France through Germany to Russia. There was no other way to Russia, because travelling in the sea was extremely dangerous. All Russian citizens caught in France by the war could not return to Russia. And by the November of 1918, the end of the war, the tsar and his family were already dead. Another example. In the early 1920s when the protagonist of the book ate different pastries in a trendy pastry shop in Moscow and spoke with a daughter of a Comissar, there was a civil war in Russia and a great famine, because the war interrupted the normal agricultural works. People in Moscow had difficulties in buying the bread, let alone pastries. Every page of this book is full of these kind of mistakes. I cannot take this book or this story seriously. It has nothing to do with the real Russia or Russian history or Russian culture. It only reflects the ignorance of this writer who never tried to learn something about the subject he writes about.
Unlike many people, I hadn't read Rules of Civility when I came to this novel and so I had no idea what to expect. It charmed its way into my heart from the very first page and, by the end, I was utterly enchanted.
This is the story of the elegant Count Alexander Rostov who, in 1922 at the age of 33, is brought before a Bolshevik tribunal in Moscow. Condemned on the grounds of being an unrepentant aristocrat, he is saved from the firing squad by virtue of a youthful poem whose sentiments chime with the revolutionary desire for change. Instead of death, he is condemned to lifelong house arrest in his current place of residence: the Metropol Hotel. Removed from his suite and banished to a tiny room in the attics, the Count finds that his material circumstances have been much reduced, but he’s a philosopher at heart and faces his change in fortunes with one resolve: to master his life before his life masters him. And thus we see this wise, gracious gentleman learning to cut his cloth to its new measure. He turns his eyes away from the lilacs in the Alexander Gardens, forgets the glamour of his accustomed seat at the Bolshoi and learns to do without the delicate pastries of Filippov’s. Instead he finds a new subject for his examination: mankind.
The story is leavened by moments of absurdity and shot through with quiet heartbreak, like a perfectly pitched symphony. Towles is thoughtful but never sentimental; heartwarming but never sickly; and bittersweet but never bitter. The difficulty is that one can’t explain why something is beautiful. If you asked me to explain why a painting or an aria or a poem was beautiful, I couldn’t do it. All I can say is that it is. And it’s the same here. Like any fine artwork, the story is perfectly balanced, and both reflects and transcends its time. We may not step outside the Metropol but, like the Count, we can watch the vagaries of Fortune as they blow in through the revolving doors, and study the metamorphosis of Bolshevism. Despite its weighty underlying themes, the story itself is designed with such care that it seems to sparkle, suspended, with an air of sprezzatura.
I feel privileged to have spent this time in the company of Count Rostov – or, as I feel I almost have the right to call him, Sasha. This novel is joining the select ranks of my comfort books, and I’ll certainly be reading it again. In the meantime, all I can do is recommend it heartily to you as perfect material for a winter’s night curled in a blanket against the bitter cold outside. At a time when sincerity, tolerance and compassion are in short supply in the world around us, I’m delighted to discover that here these virtues become the very touchstones which enable a remarkable protagonist to weather the perils of a changing existence. A wonderful, heartwarming book.
To quote the book: "By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour."
This largely sums up my association with this book. I've read this book curled up in my bed with a mug of hot-chocolate, between business meetings in order to cleanse my mind of the mundane and predictable, in the garden while sitting comfortably on a swing, and this morning at 3 am where I finished the final 150 pages, just as Apollo began his majestic journey across the horizon. And in the end my opinion is that this book is perhaps one of the most emotionally, linguistically and intellectually stimulating pieces of literature that I have had the good fortune to come across. The story of Count Alexander Rostov and his extended stay at The Hotel Metropol reveals to us that life is never something that can slip you by, provided you are willing to adapt. The Count makes it his business to master his circumstances the only way he knows how. With poise, dignity and impeccable taste. Over the course of his more than 30yrs. stay at the hotel, we see this Gentleman as a Noble, as a Commoner, as a Father, a Spy and finally a Man. He exemplifies an amalgam of the great wanderers of the past, like Odysseus and Crusoe who found themselves trapped in unforeseen circumstances, and emerge from the experience bearing a new clarity with regards to the concept of a 'home'.
I have not been so moved and entertained by vocabulary since P.G. Wodehouse, and indeed there is a great deal of the Wodehousian humor, mirth and mayhem in the corridors of the Metropol. There are times when one feels lost, especially when faced with historical contexts and characters that are introduced in page 50 and then intricately woven into the scene at page 276, however, like the great wanderers we arrive at a new destination just as we feel that we are doomed to wander aimlessly.
A wonderful book. A one off in terms of its originality, written with panache and elegance of style, and with a most intriguing central character( an aristocrat and old school style gentleman) plus a cast of interesting supportive secondary characters. The count's fortitude in dealing with his forced internal exile for simply being who he is finds him in the unusual position of maintaining his former residence in the premier hotel in Moscow, but in somewhat reduced circumstances. This is beautifully depicted. The narrative will hold you right to the end which you will regret as you will hanker for more.It is erudite but carries its scholarship lightly. The novel's progression with the Bolshevik revolutionary era as an initial backdrop to the later Cold War years adds both drama plus at times a light hearted and funny quixotic touch to the story. Highly recommended.
This almost works as a readable and engaging fairy story. It’s a Russian male version of Mary Poppins. The aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is a paragon of charm, virtue and erudition, only slightly more real in that he does have a lover. Even the Red army colonel Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov is full of intellectual curiosity when he’s not liquidating the enemies of the people. Make believe has its role as a genre, as does the celebration of human virtue. But setting such a light-hearted tale in the hotel Metropole minutes away from the Lubyanka during the Terror is a category error. It is inevitably dismissive of the true horror and suffering portrayed by Solzhenitsyn, Mandelstam and others. Great literature engages the real human story. Fairy stories should be set elsewhere.
Brilliant episodes of the Count's experience in the Hotel Metropole in Russia about the time of the Revolution. Beautiful language, beautiful observation. About time someone out there wrote in a sophisticated, yet approachable way, which entertains, captivates and educates all in a sensitively observed narrative held together by rounded characters and interesting episodes. Best book I have read in ages.
An extraordinary book - I don't think I would have chosen to read this from the blurb though. I only came across it as it was recommended to me and I am so glad it was. Beautifully written - full of small details and intricate to-ings and fro-ings which all ultimately link and have purpose. It has you laughing out loud at times. The main character shouldn't work - but he is amazing - and there are a wonderful array of supporting characters, each so perfectly described and true to themselves. Heartwarming describes this book very well indeed.
This book is a total waste of time. The first couple of pages sounded quite promising but the rest of the story rapidly disintegrated into total nonsense. Drawn out. Boring. Dull. A total non-event.
I am absolutely delighted that so many people loved this book but, unfortunately, I've not managed to understand why. Page after page nothing is going on in this book. If it was an attempt to be philosophical, it miserably failed for me as I found it neither thought provoking, nor interesting.
On top of that, it does absolutely nothing to connect you to anything even remotely Russian as there is nothing that comes close to that country besides the names used by the author.
This is the last time I am allowing myself to be misled by the number of positive reviews on Amazon!
I am really not sure what this is supposed to be: hopelessly overwritten, lengthy and boring; or a failed parody of a historical novel written in the style of the 1920s? After a while - about 10 pages in - you begin to wonder if the author is paid by the word: completely pointless descriptions and asides that do nothing to drive or to contribute to the narrative, just filling page after page with overwritten descriptions, misplaced adjectives and laboured similes. If you find something like this high literature or elegant writing, this is for you: “ … and Marina, the shy delight with the wandering eye …”, or “ … the minute hand of the clock meeting its bowlegged friend, the hour …” Otherwise you just find yourself groaning in despair – at the author, his editor, and an (over-) appreciative audience – , or just laughing hysterically. Or as the author would have probably put it: “… he chuckled into his malleable hands held before his handsome face, and - glinting into the glistening rays of the sun that danced in dusty rainbows of his small but stylishly decorated room like so many tiny drops of memory caught in the weightless stillness of the afternoon, pondered upon his inimitable fate. Thenceforth he would …” Or something like that.