A Gentleman in Moscow

I recently finished reading " A Gentleman in Moscow ", a novel by Amor Towles. It was excellent. That makes three excellent finds in the past year. The others being " The Shadow of the Wind " by Carlos Ruiz Zafón with Lucia Graves as translator, and " Where the Crawdads Sing " by Delia Owens.

A few highlights from "A Gentleman in Moscow" are below. Includes minor spoilers.

For rather than being tools of self-discovery, mirrors tended to be tools of self-deceit.

But Fate would not have the reputation it has if it simply did what it seemed it would do.

From bells to cannons and back again, from now until the end of time. Such is the fate of iron ore.

“Sometimes,” Nina clarified, “everybody tells you something because they are everybody. But why should one listen to everybody? Did everybody write the Odyssey? Did everybody write the Aeneid?” She shook her head then concluded definitively: “The only difference between everybody and nobody is all the shoes.

After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.

Some who preferred the clarity of science adhered to the ideas of Darwin, seeing at every turn the mark of natural selection; while others opted for Nietzsche and his eternal recurrence or Hegel and his dialectic—each system quite sensible, no doubt, when one had finally arrived at the one-thousandth page.

Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confederacy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condescension with an inward smile.

“I’ll tell you what is convenient,” he said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka—and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

But the moment I felt that pride was not when you and Anna brought home news of your victory. It was earlier in the evening, when I watched you heading out the hotel’s doors on your way to the hall. For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions.

But no counsel, however well grounded in history, is suitable for all. Like bottles of wine, two men will differ radically from each other for being born a year apart or on neighboring hills.

For as it turns out, one can revisit the past quite pleasantly, as long as one does so expecting nearly every aspect of it to have changed.

category: quotes
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