Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin

IMG_2618“What I do not want, I think with sudden ferocity, is a small life – a life of mundane concerns, of fulfilled expectations, of commonplaces and banalities… – a life within four walls.”

Unique and utterly compelling, Forty Rooms tells the story of a woman’s life and choices through the rooms she has inhabited. The concept being that a woman inhabits forty rooms throughout her lifetime, which composes her biography. We meet the protagonist as a child in her home in Moscow and follow her as she grows and moves to the United States, with a desire for adventure and dreams of becoming a poet. But with life come choices, disappointments, victories, failures, and roads taken and not taken. The life of the protagonist is divided into rooms and moments, providing glimpses into key periods of time along with her thoughts, feelings, doubts and insecurities. In the end, was it a life well lived or talent wasted and opportunities squandered?

There is a dream-like, magical feeling to Forty Rooms that is as compelling as it is haunting. Through beautiful prose, the author effectively conveys the dreams, enthusiasm, and seemingly limitless possibilities of youth. As the protagonist grows into adulthood and into a life she may not have imagined for herself, it is difficult not to feel the weight of the choices made and the inevitable passage of time. There is also a fantasy aspect to the novel that adds a special element to the story as a whole and to its philosophical nature. What really makes this a standout book for me is how it does not rely on dramatic events or action filled pages, instead showing how life happens in the quiet moments. A beautifully written and thought-provoking novel. 

“Limits are best stretched by going inward, not outward; pain will find you no matter how cramped the cell you hide in; and joy – joy is always only a poem away. And there are no such things as small lives, there are only small people.”

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