“A Gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles

“A Gentleman in Moscow” is a novel that is packed with warmth, charm and basic human decency. It tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is confined to the Metropol Hotel in Moscow by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s for the “crime” of being part of the upper class.

Now, there are certainly worse places to be placed under house arrest than a luxury hotel, but nonetheless,  it took away the count’s freedom. More importantly, the Bolshevik revolution took away his identity. He was referred to as a Former Person and stripped of his titles, his ancestral home and most of his possessions. His life could have become very narrow and bitter, but, instead, he found a way to still live a satisfying, meaningful life. This is because he didn’t let the Bolsheviks strip him of his character or dignity.

The book starts off a little slow as the author develops some of the historical backdrop for the story. So don’t give up if it doesn’t grab 51yczui5ojl-_sx329_bo1204203200_you right away! Also at the beginning, the Count comes across as rather frivolous because, well, he IS rather frivolous. This is a man of leisure who is used to whiling away the hours at the ballet or over drinks with friends. But as the book progresses, we also find out that he is a man of substance who’s capable of great kindness and love.

The Count’s world now revolves around the people who either work at or visit the hotel. He forms deep friendships with some of the staff, most of whom still treat him with respect despite his altered status and circumstances. But there is one villain among them just to keep things real. There is also a steady stream of interesting hotel guests that the Count forms relationships with, including a long-term romantic partner and a little girl he ends up raising like a daughter. It’s the positive nature of these relationships that give the story so much heart, as well as the Count, himself, who is “at once proper, proud and openhearted. ”

This novel is also full of social commentary. Particularly striking is the way the communist movement in Russia ate its young. People who were initially and enthusiastically idealistic about the revolution found themselves eventually persecuted by the system they had so energetically helped put in place. And, of course, a system that was supposed to be about “the people” devolved to once again be about the individuals in charge. You know, “four legs good, two legs better” kind of stuff.

The author is also adept at depicting different aspects of human nature and I frequently found myself thinking “I know someone just like that!” And it was ultimately his depiction of the Count that made me like this book so much. He was a thoroughly likable combination of charm, gentlemanly manners and compassion. I found myself wanting to have cocktails with him!

Have you read “A Gentleman in Moscow”? Tell me what you thought.

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10 thoughts on ““A Gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles

  1. I joined you in reading this novel knowing that you had a huge advantage over me! Since you were once a student of literature and Russian history/politics, I am sure you didn’t share my occasional sense of feeling lost in this story. The many references to historical facts, people, places, works of art, writings, etc., left me feeling like I should stop and Google something before continuing my reading. Fortunately, I found myself slowly becoming more engaged in the book, feeling charmed by the Count, and imagining myself in his life of hotel confinement with interesting food, people and conversation to pass the years.

    Amor Towles struck me as a very brilliant author and a possible contestant for Jeopary! He wrote many thought provoking lines and there were a few passages about parenting that especially spoke to me. I am almost tempted to read this book a second time in order to catch the nuances that escaped me the first time through.

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  2. I am glad you said not to give up on this book because that is exactly what I did, but will now go back to it. I got bogged down in the beginning, started skimming and then gave up. Arg… But, I did find myself liking the Count. He was a charming character, especially in his interactions with young Nina. Yes, I will go back and finish this one. In the meantime, a few books both George and I have read and like were “News of the World” and “The Passenger”. Completely different reads, but both good. And, the April book looks very good–George has requested it from the library.

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  3. I loved this book! I had read his first novel and was anxious to get started on this one. Initially I was put off by the frivolous nature of the count, and left the book sitting for a while. It was only when I was getting close to the return date for the library that I picked it up again…then I couldn’t put it down until the last page. Amor Towles has a gift for the sentence that conveys his message with a minimum of words…I wonder if he goes back over what he has written with a red pen! Some of his passages ache with meaning…something we feel and have never been able to put in words…or at the very least, no so few words. His sentences describe both the external and interior landscape to the point that is is instantly recognizable as something we share.

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  4. I recently read Amor Towle’s first novel, Rules of Civility, and couldn’t put it down! I agree with Kari’s assessment that Towle has a “gift for the sentence that conveys his message with a minimum of words.” Looking forward to reading “Gentleman in Moscow” next…

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  5. I agree with Carolyn. I am only about 20% into this book, and can’t imagine anyone thinking it started slowly. I have loved it from the beginning. The humor and descriptions of the Count’s thoughts about the way the world was and how it now is are priceless! I was a Russian language minor in college and some of the country’s history seeped in along the way But surely you readers remember Dr.Zhivago? I guess I read a lot of Russian literature or literature about Russia so the aftermath of the revolution is a familiar setting. Regardless of your knowledge of history, this book is more about human nature and the ability to make the most of one’s lot in life. Like Michelle, the Count is not one to let changed circumstances stop his zest for being alive and connected and learning. Of course, the Count had a whole hotel and its guests to entertain him. Nina is absolutely the best child character ever! She bests the Count in a discussion about music and travel which he notes by saying that it “is the mark of a fine chess player to tip over his own king when he sees that defeat is inevitable, no matter how many moves remain in the game.” He simply concedes Nina’s point by moving on to a new subject. I so wish I could underline this book but I got it from the library. Maybe I’ll download a version. I hate to read on computer, but at least you can copy of bookmark the parts you like. I am glad to be retired just this year so I can consume this marvelous novel. Maybe I will be back with more thoughts. Amor Towles is my new favorite author so I have to get Rules of Civility.

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