Saturday, May 4, 2019


In this permanent cultural Kristallnacht which took over America in 2016, Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow feels like a window reopened, showing a vista reawakened. The writer may have been inspired by Chekhov or Nabokov. If these current dark years might, rightly so, call for the more titanic style of Philip Roth, Towles chose for the mind/chamber music of Montaigne. Besides, he puts a movie in the heart of things, none other than Casablanca.

The novel has become a best-seller in the United States. This tells a lot about the mood, the expectations and the needs of a country which looks otherwise lost in some form of collective Angst. The success of this difficult novel, which spans an arc of history, confined in one single room, is noteworthy. Allusion is not a daily enchantment after all. Here, history is always a collateral, more intuitively perceived than just undergone. The various persons who inhabit this claustrophobic space become the masters of their confinement. The "rulers" end up being the hapless imitators of the codes and manners they pretend to dislodge from history's guidebooks.

There is little space for talk about culture in these troubling American years. This is strange because there is creativity as seldom before. It is just that many prefer to bypass the noise and engage the receiver by way of seduction, which is a far more sophisticated conduit. Towles has been able to suggest here answers to many questions which might otherwise appear too esoteric to handle. He chose the past as medium, maybe because there are often secret drawers in antique furniture. His irony, detachment and often cynical therapy will obviously convince many that, after all, the worse  has only a measured lifespan. The duration thereof is a mystery, but the end is a certainty. So there is hope.


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