Fiction and reality blend harmoniously in the heartwarming books of Amor Towles

My daughter often asks me who my favorite author is, and the answer is always the same: I can never choose one because there are different writers to like for different genres. Whenever I yearn for a trip, it’s Pico Iyer for the way he writes about culture through the lens of a stranger. When I crave fantasy and humor, anything written by Sir Terry Pratchett is perfect. My desire for mysterious murders is appeased by Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz or Shamini Flint, and local author Brian Gomez Devil’s place always makes me laugh.

The pandemic gave me more time to read and I have managed to read a number of new books, but have noticed that stress often pushes me towards the comfort of the familiar rather than the excitement of something. again. Whenever new daily Covid-19 cases have jumped, or I’ve heard particularly bad news related to the pandemic, one author has become my constant – Amor Towles.

Born and raised in Boston, Towles worked as an investment professional for over 20 years before turning to full-time writing, which he now does from his base in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife. and her two children. His first book, Rules of civility, traces exactly one year in the life of Katey Kontent, 25, as she sailed through life in late 1930s New York City armed with a stimulating mind and her own poise. His next book, A gentleman in Moscow, takes place in 1922 when the unrepentant aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol, and he must stay there even as Russian history unfolds outside the hotel’s doors .

I have read both books several times since their acquisition, as evidenced by their well-worn covers and slightly slumped backs. I was initially plagued with guilt that I hadn’t used the downtime to develop my work, but it turns out that re-reading the books you love isn’t an unsurprising reaction to the pandemic. There’s a lot of solace to be found in tomes you know the end of – familiar storylines and familiar emotional registers help stressed readers (current company included) avoid suspense and surprises.

Obviously Towles has a type (like me) because both of his books are set in a definite period of the past – Katey in New York in the days of the Depression, the Earl in the suffocating years after the Bolshevik Revolution in Moscow. For anyone who enjoys history, especially when told through the lens of literature, Towles’ way of storytelling is particularly compelling. Fiction and reality merge harmoniously in the two books, challenging the reader’s understanding (and remembering) of the story. In addition, the man writes really well.

Towles’ skill also lies in creating main characters that readers can connect with. For example, Katey very quickly becomes someone with whom I would have liked to be friends, with her fierce independence, her dry mind and her love of books. Told from an older woman’s perspective, thinking back to the year everything went wrong – and sort of right – in her life, Katey finds love, watches it disappear and grabs hold of it. ‘part of its future in a fascinating 12-month period. You can’t help but support her as the book progresses, although there’s no doubt that she’ll find whatever she’s looking for, as she’s too smart and too tough not to. to do.

Borrow Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a little bit of Gatsby the magnificent, the charm of Towles’ debut novel is not its originality, but the romance of jazz bands at 3 a.m., gin martinis in posh apartments, and the chic glamor of 1930s New York. a flesh and blood story that you can fully embrace, decked out to the rafters with fabulous details from the time period in which it takes place. It’s a fun, glamorous, semi-literary tale worth losing yourself in, and I’ve done it – many times.

If Katey was someone I wanted to be friends with forever, the Earl is the fascinating handsome gentleman who crushes my table and whose company I greatly enjoy, but at the same time, whom I am also relieved to escape from. the end of the dinner. Since Russia’s new Soviet masters sentenced him to house arrest, the count has spent decades making a world out of a hotel and its inhabitants – a precocious nine-year-old, a chef de bad mood, the French butler and so on. to.

In both books, the geographic setting is secondary to the story at hand. Katey would be just as likeable in London, and the Earl might as well have been locked up in a hotel in Paris. A gentleman in Moscow is particularly insular, since the protagonist is under house arrest, and one of the most heartwarming references to the outside world is the way he, the chef and the butler manage to find the ingredients for a bouillabaisse in ravaged Moscow. through war – a process that takes three years. “From the first spoonful, you find yourself transported to the port of Marseille – where the streets are teeming with sailors, thieves and Madonnas, sun and summer, languages ​​and life,” writes Towles.

Her writing style is sleek and urban, mixing simple turns of phrase with deliciously evocative prose. I am immediately transported to the time and place he describes, some of the pictures he paints so evocatively of a young girl in New York and a count banished to Moscow. Isn’t the temporary escape from reality the goal of a good book, a sign that the author has achieved through another person’s existence, grabbed his imagination and left his dreams behind fly away, even momentarily?

This article first appeared on August 2, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.

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