Jan 31, 2018

At our 100th, Tom's the Gentleman

Dinner and Acknowledgments

Tom had a choice to make last night:  he could have focused his efforts on the cuisine of the fictional Metropol Hotel or he could have commemorated the Man Book Club's 100th book.  To our delight, he chose both. For dinner, we enjoyed his slow-cooked rendition of beef stroganoff--which proved a worthy competitor to the Tyler Florence version Dan served when we read The Fixer.  His stroganoff was accompanied by a "Russian" salad.  How Russian was it?  I'm not sure, because I was too focused on what came before and after. 

For an appetizer, Tom teamed up with Roy, who harvested fresh caviar from an 80-lb sturgeon he caught in San Pablo Bay.  (Naturally, the caviar was paired with Russian vodka.)  And for dessert, Tom made a delicious carrot cake topped with candles celebrating our 100th book.  Spasibo, tovarisch Tom!

Cake, caviar, and vodka...all for our 100th book

Our Review and Discussion of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The conceit behind Towles' latest novel is simple:  a young Russian aristocrat, who is sentenced to "house" arrest five years after the Bolshevik Revolution, learns what it means to be a true gentleman in a society bent on ending class distinctions.  During his decades of confinement in the Hotel Metropol, Count Rostov mingles with party loyalists, foreign diplomats, KGB agents, and--most importantly--the hotel staff.  It is his relationship with the staff, and his adoption of an orphaned girl, that hastens Rostov's conversion from aristocrat to gentleman.  

Most of us discovered a very enjoyable story in Towles' surprise bestseller (although Dean and Jack found it slow going, and Dan actually disliked it). What we didn't discover was a traditional historical novel.  For those hoping to learn more about the Bolsheviks, Stalinism, or the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, few of those details seep into the narrative.  It is, as Larry described it, more akin to Eloise at the Plaza than conventional historical fiction. Indeed, I found myself wondering whether the upcoming paperback edition might get pitched to Young Adult readers. 

Towles' narrator begs our indulgence by addressing the reader directly and through occasional wordy footnotes.  While most of us found these asides amusing, Stan did not.  Pedantic and condescending were his words.  By contrast, Paul (who loved the book) found gems scattered throughout the novel, including references to two of our prior titles (The Tender Bar and The Maltese Falcon).  And Terry, who listened to the audio book, was entranced by the narration and  not distracted by the commentary.  He called it one of his favorite books of the year.  

Our Rating of A Gentleman in Moscow

Tom asked us to read Towles' novel because, after hearing about it from his wife, he was convinced we would enjoy it--all 462 pages of it. With a respectable 7.4 rating, he was vindicated in his choice (and in listening to his wife). 

Next Up:  Ski Weekend The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

We meet next on the ski slopes around Lake Tahoe.  No book has been assigned.  Instead, George and I look forward to playing host and repeating the fun we had last year.
Editor's Afterword:  To correct the record...the ski trip disappeared when the snow disappeared.  So we convened at my house in February to discuss an old favorite--The Great Gatsby--at the request of our friends at Nutopia.  We meet next in March to discuss Mando's suggested title about the recent discovery of an ancient city deep in the rain forest of Central America.