Mastering Your Circumstances

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


After standing trial for writing a poem the authorities dissaproved of, count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to house arrest and is banished from his large hotel suite to a small attic room. He is to spend the rest of his life in the Metropol hotel in Moscow without ever leaving it. He used to be count Alexander Ilych Rostov, recipient of the order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, master of the hunt. He became Alexander Rostov. The Count adjusts to living in his small room, hHe never complains. After all, a man must master his circumstances if he doesn’t want the circumstances to master him.

His world becomes Metropol hotel. Wherever he goes, he counts his steps: from his room to the restaurant, to the barber, to the bar and back to his room. The more he counts the more the world around him shrinks. His everyday paths are the same. After he meets Nina, a nine-year-old girl with whom he discovers parts of the hotel he never knew existed, his world starts to grow again. He discovers there are rooms behind rooms and doors behind doors. Then Anna appears in his life and little Sophia and Osip and many other people he meets in the hotel. They all change his life, enlarging his world.

The main theme of this book is mastering the circumstances. Robinson adjusts to living on the island, the moth of Manchester changes its colour in accordance with the polluted air, Emil, the chef is forced to adapt his cooking in times when certain ingredients are hard to find, and the Count learns to live in a small attic room. All of them ultimately adjust to their new surroundings, to new times. But how far does mastering the circumstances go? What I remember the most was the silence of the poets. In a conversation between the Count and his friend Mishka, Mishka remembers four great poets, who instead of forging new poetry for Russia as Mishka predicted years ago, fell silent. But perhaps, as he concludes, by creating the poetry of silence, they created this new poetry he so much wanted them to create. Perhaps by being silent, they said more than any action could communicate.

“Yes, silence can be an opinion,” said Mishka. “Silence can be a form of protest. It can be a means of survival. But it can also be a school of poetry – one with its own meter, tropes and conventions. One that needn’t be written with pencils and pens; but that can be written in the soul with a revolver to the chest.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Is silence a form of protest? I was brought up to believe that protest means to speak up, to say what bothers you, to do something, not to be silent. Silence is quite the opposite of protest. But what if action isn’t the only form of protest? What if there are situations when more can be done with silence? What if I’m thinking too much about it? Perhaps it was just a conversation two men in the book have. Nope. Nothing in this book is there by chance. Towles put it there on purpose, to mean something, to connect and converge towards the end. As I mentioned before, the Count never complains, he is silent. However, is he silent in the end? No, he most certainly isn’t. After he has mastered his circumstances, he leads the events where he wants them.

The book didn’t end the way I was expecting it to end. Well, I wasn’t expecting anything, I rarely do. As I mentioned many times before, I like open endings, I like something to think about after I’ve finished the book. And I like to be free to either invent my own continuation (which I never do, but anyway) or just leave it as it is. So, I left it and it’s still there … and so are the apple trees (who has read the book will know why).

*

Potem, ko so mu sodili zaradi pesmi, ki jo je napisal in so oblasti ocenile, da poziva k uporu, je grof Aleksander Iljič Rostov obsojen na hišni pripor v moskovskem hotelu Metropol, ki ga nikoli ne sme zapustiti. Iz razkošnega apartmaja, kjer je živel prej, se mora preseliti v majhno podstrešno sobico. Nekoč je bil grof Aleksander Ilijič Rostov, prejemnik reda svetega Andreja, član konjeniškega kluba in vodja lova. Sedaj je samo še Aleksander Rostov. Grof se navadi na svojo sobico, nikoli ne se pritožuje, saj verjame, da mora človek obvladovati okoliščine, v katerih se je znašel, če noče, da okoliščine obvladajo njega.

Njegov svet postane hotel Metropol. Kamor koli gre, šteje korake: od sobe do restavracije, do brivca in naprej do bara in nazaj v sobo. Dlje ko šteje, bolj se svet okoli njega krči. Vsak dan prehodi isto pot. Šele ko spozna Nino, devetletno deklico, ki mu pokaže dele hotela, o katerih ni niti sanjal, se začne njegov svet spet širiti. Odkrije, da so za sobami druge sobe in za vrati druga vrata. Kasneje v njegovo življenje vstopi Anna in še kasneje mala Sophia in Osip in mnogi drugi ljudje, ki jih spozna v hotelu in vsi po svoje razširijo njegov svet.

Poglavitna tema romana je obvladovanje okoliščin. Robinzon se je navadil na življenje na otoku, vešča iz Manchestra ne prilagodi tako, da spremeni barvo kril, potem ko se je zaradi industrije onesnažil zrak, kuhar Emil prilagodi jedi časom, ko se nekaterih sestavin ne da kar tako dobiti, grof se prilagodi življenju v hotelu. Vsi se na koncu prilagodijo novih okoliščinam. Vendar kako daleč lahko gremo s prilagajanjem? Najbolj se mi je vtisnila v spomin tišina pesnikov. V nekem pogovoru z grofom, njegov prijatelj Miška razmišlja o štirih velikih pesnikih, za katere je mislil, da bodo ustvarili novo rusko poezijo, vendar je niso. Namesto tega so utihnili. Morda pa so, kot je sam zaključil, z novo poezijo tišine ustvarili ravno to novo poezijo, ki si jo je Miška tako želel. Morda so z molkom povedali veliko več. Miška pravi, da je tudi tišina lahko izražanje mnenja, oblika protesta. Lahko je način preživetja, lahko pa je vrsta poezije z lastnimi pravili. Taka, ki se ne piše s svinčnikom ali peresom, ampak v duši, medtem ko pesniku grozijo z revolverjem.

O tem sem veliko razmišljala. Je tišina oblika protesta? Vedno so me učili, da protest pomeni, da poveš kaj misliš, kaj te moti, da narediš nekaj, ne pa da si tiho. Tišina je bila vedno nasprotje protesta. Kaj pa, če dejanja niso edina oblika protesta? Gotovo obstajajo situacije, ko lahko več povemo s tišino. Morda pa preveč razmišljam o tem. Morda je to bil samo pogovor med dvema prijateljema v knjigi. Ne, ni bil. Nič v tej knjigi ni tam kar tako. Avtor je tudi ta pogovor vključil v zgodbo z namenom, da bi se povezal z drugimi stvarmi in skupaj z njimi pripeljal zgodbo do konca. Kot sem že omenila, se grof nikoli ne pritožuje. Tiho je. Kljub temu pa na koncu ni tiho. Ravno nasprotno. Spretno izkoristi okoliščine, da se zgodba razplete tako, kot sam hoče.

Knjiga se ni zaključila na pričakovan način. No, saj nisem ničesar pričakovala. Kot sem že velikokrat prej zapisala, imam rada odprte zaključke, rada vidim, da potem, ko neham brati, še vedno razmišljam o knjigi. Lahko si sama izmislim nadaljevanje (česar nikoli ne naredim) ali pustim tako, kot je zaključil avtor. Tudi to zgodbo sem pustila tako kot je, še vedno je tam ... pa jablane tudi (tisti, ki je knjigo prebral, bo vedel zakaj).



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