A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

BookA Gentleman in Moscow is a beautifully written and magical story. Set in Moscow in 1922 and spanning four decades, we meet Count Alexander Rostov, who exudes old world elegance and aristocracy. He is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for life at the luxurious, Metropol Hotel in Moscow and declared a “Former Person.” Despite the hotel’s grandor, the Count is imprisoned in a small attic room, which he attemptos to make cozy and familiar with a few of his favorite items. These include: two high back chairs, an oriental coffee table, a Louis XVI desk, two table lamps fashioned from elephants, and his grandmother’s set of porcelain plates. He also loves his books. “…the book had been written with winter nights in mind. Without a doubt, it was a book for when the birds had flown south, the wood was stacked by the fireplace, and the fields were white with snow; that is, for when one had no desire to venture out and one’s friends had no desire to venture in.”

Confined indoors, the Count spends his time exploring the hotel and making the acquaintance of staff and guests. His friends include Nina, a precocious young girl seeking lessons on how to become a princess, the chef and maître d of the hotel’s famed restaurant and Anna, a beautiful actress and Alexander’s lover. The author, Towles skillfully brings the world to the Count, since he cannot go out into the world. His encounters with each guest and staff member make for fascinating stories. “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.”

A truly delightful read. Amor Towles is also the author of Rules of Civility.

Upstairs, Downstairs (1971)

UpDown_TitleCard2DVDs -The Library will be hosting the program Below Stairs: Meet the Kitchen Maid Whose Memoirs Helped Inspire Downton Abbey on Thursday, January 23, 7p.m.  British servant Margaret Powell wrote the best-selling memoir Below Stairs and she will be portrayed by Leslie Goddard.  Powell’s 1968 book was among the inspirations for Downtown Abbey and directly inspired the 1970s series Upstairs, Downstairs. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, I would highly recommend the series Upstairs Downstairs. Hard to believe that it first aired over 40 years ago on Masterpiece Theater.  It won seven Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody.

The series tells the stories of the residents of 165 Eaton Place a townhouse in a posh London neighborhood.  The “Upstairs” is comprised of the wealthy and aristocratic heads of household Richard Bellamy a member of Parliament and his wife Lady Marjorie. They have two children, Elizabeth who is in her late teens and James who is in his early twenties. The “Downstairs” consists of the Bellamy’s lively and devoted servants overseen by Hudson the butler and Mrs. Bridges the cook.  Other servants include parlor maids, Rose, Daisy, and Sarah, kitchen maids Emily and Ruby, footmen Alfred and Edward,  coachman Pearce, chauffeur Thomas, and Lady Marjorie’s Maid Maude.  The series covers almost a 30 year time period and shows all the characters surviving social change, political upheaval, scandals and the horrors of the First World War. Most importantly you get a sense of the relationships formed between those upstairs and downstairs and their loyalties to each other.