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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Monday, September 12, 2016

Spell binding! Elegant!


The superlatives reviewers have lavished on this novel are well deserved. This is an enthralling, all consuming  window into life in Moscow from the pre 1920's through to the 1950's, from Stalin and the Bolsheviks through to Nikita Khrushchev.   
We view the microcosm of what's happening in Russian history through the eyes of the man 'in the bubble' Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1922 was confined for life to the Metropol Hotel, across from the Kremlin, by a Bolshevik tribunal.
Mentored by his godfather and guardian, the Grand Duke Demidov, Alexander recalls the Grand Duke's words, 'if a man does not  master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.' These words mark the way Alex moves forward.
How the sophisticated, urbane Count Alex handles his incarceration is wonderfully told. His acquaintances are like a panoply of stars spread out beneath Alex's new sky, the ceiling of the Metropol.
His meeting with, and continued relationship with the fascinating child Nina, the harsh realities of the changes in the  politburo, the advancement of small minded individuals like the inept waiter the Bishop, contrasted to the kindliness of some of the more urbane true believers. 
Of the many friends Alex makes amongst hotel staff four stand out; Andrey, the maître d’ of the Boyarsky Restaurant, Emile the chief, Vasily the concierge and Marina the hotel seamstress.
His world, in one fell swoop narrowed, is in reality enlarged through the people he becomes acquainted with. There are his friends from the past. The angst of his writer friend Mishka, an expert on Chekov. And not to be disregarded a new friend, the actress Anna Urbanova.
There's Nina the young girl who grows into a fervent young woman, typical of her generation committed to the communist ideals. Her fanatical absorption with change for the common good that at times prove disastrous reflecting the broad sweep of political, social and economic change that forgot to involve the people and it's way replaced one tyranny with another.
A startling set of circumstances give him Sofia, the child he was to mind for a month, the daughter he unexpectedly acquires. She brings light and meaning to his life.
Abram the handyman he encounters on the roof and from whom he learns the secrets of coffee and the miracle of the bees. A wonderful interlude that helps Alex retain his equilibrium.
And the others, Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, a former colonel of the red army, a Party man who comes to Alex to be educated in understanding the privileged classes of those countries Russia wants to enter into economic and political discussions with. England, France and America...and how they view the world.  The American psyche needed to be understood. For over fifteen years they read literature, discussed and watched films together. Their run down on Casablanca is superb.
A life lived within the confines of the hotel that Alex somehow ironically lived to the full, discovering new emotional truths, new revelations.Layers within layers are revealed within the story like the Russian nesting dolls Alex at one time unwraps, layers of meaning and revelation that are just as painstakingly and beautifully crafted.
This novel is pure poetry, gift wrapped in vivid and taut prose.
An amazing read!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

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