A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Finished on December 1, 2017
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel
With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”
A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
What an outstanding novel! I first learned of A Gentleman in Moscow when I read Bellezza's glowing review in the fall of 2016. I have only read a few Russian novels (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago) and after winning Meredith's give-away for Towles' novel, I was a little concerned that it was going to be a heavier read than I originally thought. Meredith shared some lovely passages from the book on her blog, but still. 1920 Russia. This was not going to be a beach read. I placed the lovely book in my bookcase and there it sat. When we moved to Oregon, it was gently packed amidst hundreds of other books and eventually returned to that bookcase where it continued to lurk. I'm not sure what inspired me to finally pull it off the shelf, but I am so glad I did! It was not at all what I expected (dark, dreary, dense, full of boring historical details, etc.) and I could not put it down.
I love it when a book pulls you in with its quiet prose, and your inner voice says, This is going to be remarkable. This is going to be your #1 book of the year. This is surely going to be a classic. I felt that way about Markus Zusak's gem, The Book Thief. I felt that way about Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. Towles' exquisite storytelling is the sort one wishes to savor, to read slowly, then turn back and re-read passages, appreciating them for their beauty and inspiration.
'Tis a funny thing, reflected the Count as he stood ready to abandon his suite. From the earliest age, we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. We see our parents and siblings off at the station; we visit cousins, attend schools, join the regiment; we marry, or travel abroad. It is part of the human experience that we are constantly gripping a good fellow by the shoulders and wishing him well, taking comfort from the notion that we will hear word of him soon enough.
But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn't welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity--all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candelabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion.
But, of course, a thing is just a thing.and
"I'll tell you what is convenient," he said after a moment. "To sleep until noon and have someone bring your your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment's notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka--and at one time I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most."and
Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve--if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew. And yet, for the Count, when the doors to Anna's bedroom opened and Sofia stepped forward in her gown, at that very moment she crossed the threshold into adulthood. On one side of that divide was a girl of five or ten or twenty with a quiet demeanor and a whimsical imagination who relied on him for companionship and counsel; while on the other side was a young woman of discernment and grace who need rely on no one but herself.
I could have easily read this book in a few short days, but I took my time and found myself living in the world of the Metropol with Count Rostov, Anna, Nina, Sofia, Marina, Andrey and Emile. Towles has created a great cast of unforgettable characters!
Oh, and my inner voice was absolutely right. A Gentleman in Moscow did become my #1 book of 2017. Highly recommend!
Be sure to take a look at the author's website. I could spend hours reading through all the extra material about this novel, as well as that for Rules of Civility, which I am currently reading (and loving!). Amor Towles has joined the ranks of my all-time favorite authors. I hope he's busy writing another novel!
Click here to listen to an interview with the author on NPR.