Monday, August 27, 2018

The Heirs

Rupert Falkes is a British orphan who arrives virtually penniless in the US. He's  immensely successful and married to an upper-crust wife. This is the top 1%, if not the .1%.

Falkes has just died and is mourned by his wife and five sons, each highly successful in diverse fields. Wait a minute. Maybe that's 7 sons. A letter lands like a bomb, claiming he had two other sons and setting off all kinds of family dynamics. Did he father two other sons, or didn't he?

The novel circles around this question like water swirling at the drain in the bathtub, converging on the answer. Along the way, we're treated to a series of short stories about the lives of the Falkes family.  Each of these narratives moves the big story forward step by step, engaging you in the complex family dynamics and providing tantalizing clues about the big question - did Falkes father two other sons or not.

This novel is beautifully written, and totally absorbing. I highly recommend it.

For other book reviews, click here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Problems and Solutions

Just because there's a problem it doesn't mean there's a solution.  Just because there's no perfect solution it doesn't mean there isn't a problem. 

Unknown source

Monday, August 20, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow

This book should be titled A Gentle Man in Moscow. Count Rostov is the gentleman in the title, and he's also a gentle man. An elegant man. A cultured man. A graceful and gracious man. A man you wish you had known.

Born to the Russian aristocracy, Rostov is living in luxury in a suite at Moscow's opulent Metropole Hotel when he is sentenced to house arrest there for writing an unacceptable poem.

From luxury suite to cramped garret, the adaptable Rostov accepts his fate with equanimity. He's always been a student of people and their interactions - shrewdly designing table placements for his grandmother's dinner parties at a young age. As his physical horizons shrink, his interest in people does not. His taste is catholic. The constants are his closest friends who work in the hotel - seamstress, barber, bartender, chef, maƮtre d. Outsiders drift in and out of the hotel, and the story, exposing what is happening in this tumultuous period in Russian history - Soviet aparatchik, Russian dissident, actress, American journalist. Rostov befriends them all, but especially the young inquisitive girl Nina, who reveals the inner secrets of the hotel with her magical passkey. She opens not only the secrets of the hotel, but ultimately opens up his life.

Throughout all this, Rostov retains the manners and grace of his privileged youth, treats everyone with respect and deploys tact and not a little manipulation to address thorny issues and nasty people. Throughout his gradual decline in material circumstances, he retains his dignity, his sense of humour and his wit.

I didn't remember Amor Towles' name until friend Judith pointed out he'd also written Rules of Civility, a book I rhapsodically reviewed here. In that review,  I said the book felt like a chiffon scarf floating artlessly on my neck. My prevailing image for A Gentleman in Moscow is an autumn leaf gently wafting downwards, gracefully floating back and forth in the wind, but always heading down. Beauty in decline. And just like Rules of Civility, I felt the urge to reread A Gentleman in Moscow as soon as I'd finished it. I guess I really like Amor Towles' writing. I highly recommend this book.

For a list of more book reviews, click here.