I finished this book over a month ago but other travel and some tendonitis kept me from getting back to this blog. Yet the book lingers with me and I want to remember a few things that hold a bit of legacy for me.
I’m not surprised that Amor Towles’ other book is called the Rules of Civility. It was that enduring civility of the main character in this book that let me breathe easier. There is a way to be true to one’s self and yet be civil to others, in small and in momentous ways. I don’t think I realized how tired I am of the direction of our public discourse, no matter what political persuasion. Civility is closely related to the practice of listening that I have long supported and promoted. It is the recognition of the other as a human being first and that each of us deserve not only to be listened to, but to open ourselves to be changed by it. And if we still disagree, to look for that which might bind us anyway instead of only springing on that which sends us to the far poles of opinion. Yet unlike listening, civility also informs how one verbally responds and also one’s actions. I was enheartened by the Count’s integrity in response to unfairness, discrimination, and house imprisonment. He maintained civil to those who oppressed him and even amused to watch how this new Bolshevik government of the people began to operate decidedly like the governance it overthrew. I am left with this desire toward more civility in my stance in this world especially with my speech.
The quote from this book now in my journal is from the Essays of Montaigne that the gentleman takes to read: “The commonest way of softening the hearts of those we have offended, when, vengeance in hand, they hold us at their mercy, is by submission, to move them to commiseration and pity. However, audacity and steadfastness–entirely country means–have sometimes served to produce the same effect. ” And from the same page (23), “Life will entice after all.”
And I loved that it prompted me to watch Casablanca again with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. How that was surprisingly woven into this story of a man relegated to live his life in a Moscow hotel and never leave it intrigued me. (And interesting to see a very young Peter Lorre). And here is the quote from the book reflecting on a scene from Casablanca:
“And in the center of oasis was Rick. As the Count’s friend had observed, the saloonkeeper’s cool response to Ugartes’s arrest and his instruction for the band to play on could suggest a certain indifference to the fates of men. But in setting upright the cocktail glass in the aftermath of the commotion, didn’t he also exhibit an essential faith that by the smallest of one’s actions one can restore some sense of order to the world?”