February 2019 @ Katie’s House with everyone but Sue and Karen C. (Kitty>>hiatus)
Our pick-from-a-hat selection was A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles
Shelley had put the name in the hat. Many others intended to read it anyway, so – Yay.
She’s heard/seen good reviews, knew his other book was quite good, yada, yada, yada.
We learned some new words and phrases and other things while reading and discussing. Here’s a quick review of the newest terms in the Bootleg lexicon (in no particular order):
triumvirate – 1. vodka, caviar, & borscht (up there as one of the most on-point Bootleg menus ever!); 2. the true rulers of the Metropol & perhaps Moscow (def. ‘white shadow’ Moscow), our favorite characters in many ways; 3. no openings for any RI-based power trios (sorry, Liz); 4. Insert other samples of household or national governance foibles here (we skipped school-itics, pool-itics, and K-town altogether) – at your own risk.
asymptotically – 1. describing the bell-curve (or mantel clock) shape; 2. when plotting the IQ of Team Metropol, most would be plotted quite high and narrowly to the middle of this curve; 3. ditto for the research, literary acumen, and deft understatements to convey personal drama and sweeping historical change as done by Amor Towles; 4. also see geometry (not geography)
understatement – 1. probably should be Alexander Rostov’s middle name; 2. word efficiency that one would think could do great disservice to the rise of Stalin, suicidal actions, tests of will on all scale, loyalty, massive social change, dark undercurrents, blatant injustice, wrenching losses, trust… but in this case, one would be wrong; 3. nice contrast with blurts and bombast of party officials as well as Misha’s unparalleled passion for proletariat patriotism, poetry and pacing.
denizen – 1. citizen/comrade; 2. Former Person; resident of the shadow Metropol…thanks to Nina, risk-taking staff, and a whole lotta gold Catherines in the desk legs; Bootleg member who listens, cares, laughs, holds high standards (yes, in this case we’re looking at you…fondly, Viviane), & knows just when to fill in with the drinks, apps, dessert, salads, bread or other – month after month and year after year.
calm – 1. how one must appear after racing up the back stairs to be seated and reading in anticipation of another’s arrival; 2. the reader’s attitude in order to finish and enjoy this very long, very Russian tome; 3. Rose’s get-to-sleep story, sound, and get-out-of-my-bedroom, Matthew McConaughey app
zut! – 1. exclamation upon losing a round of the very-engaging and endearing game of threes between Alexander and Sophia (we loved this reveal of so many of their character traits & the cultural context); 2. what one could say within earshot of family members without being overtly offensive so they may – or may not – know they’ve been annoying
borscht – 1. peasant food (sorry, Alexander); 2. sentence heard from first-time borscht maker (Katie): I did not think my hands would return to a normal color; 3. sentence heard from first-time borscht eater & full-time vegetable hater (Liz): It’s borscht and I really like it! [Note: this wasn’t even the meat-version, but the veg-only version!]; 4. sentence heard from other first-time eater (Katie’s daughter): It’s weird. But it was…good.
capricious – 1. given to sudden and unaccountable swings in mood or behavior; 2. synonym: Russia (esp. in this time period); 3. some of the plot twists/turns – at times quite slow for many of us (but it’s a Russian novel, people…); 4. some of the suspension of disbelief moments (e.g. the freedom/power of the Triumvirate, that Sophia was allowed to stay, that the escape worked so well, that Osip was able to be in power for so long…so, his apparent nastiness outside of the Metropol didn’t equate with sudden rush to save Sophia with best surgeons, etc.
willowy – 1. slyly-used character marker for Anna because: a. snobby & strident is how we meet her, b. it also marks the most poignant scenes & shared character development for Anna and Alexander, c. the ending
The Bishop – 1. the perfect imperfect foil, 2. personified USSR’s ugly elements
Sasha, Misha, Anna… – 1. there are only about 7 names in Russian novels; 2. Every Man (well done, Towles…again)
friends overestimate – never underestimate – their friends’ capabilities – 1. one example of many lovely descriptions of truth; 2. and a nod to Montaigne and ‘how to live-isms’ applied as a type of Russian philosophy; 3. aristocratic behavior isn’t all bad
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – 1. Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina; 2. except… Alexander created a unique happiness with a unique family AND he grew to appreciate he was the luckiest man in Moscow; 3. antonym/stark contrast to Misha & Katerina and Nina with her husband in Siberia (unique or at least distinct forms of unhappy misery)
Next Meeting: March 26th, 7:15 @ Liz’s house.
Next Book: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan (Katie’s pick)