Inside the Metropol, a Life is Lived. Inside your Library, a World Awaits.
This series of blog posts explores the rooms of the Hotel Metropol, setting of this year’s One Read title, and recommends books and films related to each scene. For a true admirer of the written word, one book is never the end of the story.
The Written Word
Though he is a “man of devotions” the Count’s best and oldest friend, Mikhail Fyodorovich Mindich, often misses their appointments, but sends many missives.
In Mishka’s Letter
The Count’s romantic imagination overlooked his friend’s reference to the death by suicide of the poet laureate of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Mayakovsky, but it is later noted that this may have been just as well. However well they loved each other, the Count and his friend may have always seen the world in a starkly different light.
“Night Wraps the Sky: Writings by and About Mayakovsky” edited by Michael Almereyda
Upon his death, Mishka arranges to send one final legacy through the enigmatic Katerina Litvinova, his great love. The work is a hand bound catalog of classical works of literature including all passages in which “BREAD” or “SALT” is mentioned, bread and salt being the fundamental ingredients of Russian hospitality.
“The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol (Downloadable audiobook on Hoopla)
“Oblomov” by Ivan Goncharov
“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
In the Study with Sofia and the Count
On the eve of her journey to Paris, the Count insists that Sofia sit down to a comforting bowl of Okroshka, Russian summer soup, “so that one can recall it [home] fondly should one ever happen to feel a little low.”
“Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore” by Darra Goldstein
“Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking” by Bonnie Frumkin Morales
“Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Love and Longing” by Anya Von Bremzen
In the Basement with the Baedekers and the Bishop
As he makes his daring escape from 32 years of house arrest at the Hotel Metropol, Count Rostov holds the Manager Leplevsky at gunpoint with an antique dueling pistol. While walking his nemesis to the storage room in the basement, the Count stops stops to pull another Baedeker travel guide, this time for Finland, from the “cabinet of curiosities.” While this guide was intended to misdirect the authorities, the earlier pilfered Baedekers were intended to guide Sofia through the streets of Paris and to the American Embassy. Enjoy a more leisurely stroll through Paris with any of the below guides.
“Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide” by Sarah Moroz
“The Streets of Paris: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Throughout History” by Susan Cahill
“A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light” by David Downie
What’s with the 21st of June?
One of the things that puzzled me as I read the novel was that so many chapters started with the date, June 21st. What’s the significance? Why? I don’t think I would have pieced it together had I not listened to the author talk with our gracious author, Amor Towles. About ten minutes into his talk, Mr. Towles mentioned that he had decided to structure the book “accordion” style. The idea was to start the book with snapshots of the Count’s life in quick succession, starting with the first day (the day of his sentencing), one day later, the second day, 5 days later, 10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year later (to the day), 2 years, 4 years, 8 years, accelerating through time until we hit 16 years — and then it reverses, starting another 8 years later, 4 years, 2 years, 1 year, 6 months, 3 months and all the way through to the last two days with a very exciting conclusion.
This time structure brings us through 32 years of the Count’s life, showing how he first adapts to his new circumstances and then slowing back down to show how he has matured and his relationships have grown in the intervening years. Mr. Towles likened this set of rules, which he adopted for his creative process, to the time honored structure of the sonnet. With its 14 lines, ten beats per line (in iambic pentameter), the sonnet’s rules have given shape to poetic expression for hundreds of years.
If you go back through the book, you’ll see that the Count was tried and sentenced on June 21st, 1922. We also see that the first chapter of book one starts on that very day. When we get to the chapter that shows his life one year later, it is one year to the day, thus we are frequently marking time in the Count’s life with June 21st, the longest day of the year, and the day of his sentencing to life in the Metropol Hotel.
During his talk, author Amor Towles shared this and many other wonderful insights into his writing process with the DBRL One Read audience. For myself, I can say that this delightful novel brought me back into literature and the connections that one inevitably feels with the rest of humanity when one truly enjoys the characters and the undeniable warmth and humor of the author. By the end of the book, I counted Anna, Nina, Sofia, Marina, Emile, Andrey, Abram and Audrius as old friends. How blessed the Count was for their friendship, how blessed we all are for the connections we find, even while trapped in place as we are now.
With warm regards, the staff of Daniel Boone Regional Library hope you enjoyed this year’s One Read program and we’re excited to bring you another version in 2021!