Bean's Books and Beyond

Sharing thoughts on books–and sometimes on education and life

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) July 18, 2017

Filed under: Bean's favorites,book reviews,Fiction — Bean's Book Blog: books and beyond @ 3:40 am
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A Gentleman in Moscow is a gem of a book that could be just as easily double as a self-help book about how to live life with a positive attitude despite challenging circumstances.

51YCzUi5OJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The mere suggestion of the self-help genre would undoubtedly ruin the experience, but thematically, it fits.  This novel about a Russian aristocrat, Count Alexander Rostov, confined to a hotel in Moscow for his entire adult life due to “revolutionary writings” (aka: a poem), offers such beautiful language, Towles transports readers into another world. Through the Count’s eyes and experiences, we see the transformation of Russia, from the early 1920’s to the mid 1950’s–the rise of comrades, the brutality of the leadership, and the humanity of many people. Though the Count is confined to his tiny attic room plus the hotel’s common areas, he creates a world that feels far larger, and much of the time it’s easy to forget he has never left the physical building as the story seems to grow outward rather than inward. He leaves the hotel in so many other ways through relationships, stories, and shared experiences.  (more…)


* A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois (2012) August 31, 2012

Filed under: Bean's favorites,book reviews,Fiction — Bean's Book Blog: books and beyond @ 2:27 pm
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I have no idea how someone this young can write so well, especially for a first novel.  As I struggle to write one or two decent metaphors in a couple of poems that I’ve worked on for more than a year, Dubois weaves metaphors into her writing like afternoon lake breezes.  They gently roll into the prose leaving me smiling at the image and awaiting the next one. Her story blossoms through her characters, unique and well-developed individuals that encounter some of life’s most basic questions and fears.  Irina, an academic who just turned thirty, learns that she has inherited her father’s Huntington’s disease and that it will likely strike in the next year or two.  Alexandr, a Soviet chess prodigy, emerges from the Cold War a world chess champion and then shifts his focus to politics where he takes up the cause of running against Putin.  I don’t think the plot lines are the gem of the book: the real jewels are the characters and the writing and the way that Dubois can portray human thoughts and fears, from Irina’s fears of dying to Alexandr’s fear that Putin’s Russia will never be any better than Stalin’s Soviet Union.  I have no fewer than 20 passages marked in the book–little bits of description that stopped me in my tracks.


At one point, Alexandr thinks about a woman whom he loved, even if only for a very short time.  Pondering his short-lived relationship with Elizabeta, Dubois writes “She bobbed to the surface of his life, then disappeared again.  She’d hovered for half an hour above his personal lake of loneliness, a sea monster in a smudged photograph, probably not even real. She’d been above water for minutes.  She’d barely even waved.” And later as Elizabeta marries a Party official and Alexandr watches: “Elizabeta looked strange in white, when Alexandr had always seen her in black.  She was like a domesticated flower, bred through the centuries to be the wrong color.”  After Irina has exhibited early symptoms of her disease and is working on Alexandr’s campaign, she quietly offers a suggestion during a meeting.  “He (Alexandr) was surprised she was talking.  Her desolation hovered around her like an electron cloud.”


Perhaps I struggle more than most novice writers, but I was amazed with Dubois’s ability to capture the depth of human emotion in hundreds of beautiful descriptions. I could overlook a few plot flaws each time I savored another metaphor.  (fiction)


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