Looking for a good thick book to get me through the darkest of winter, I selected Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. I was intrigued by the historical Russian setting as I know little of Russia and the tagline got me: “He can’t leave. You won’t want to.”
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and 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 entry 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.
It took me a good while to get through this tome, but I am a self-admitted slow reader. Beyond that, though, this is a book to be savored and enjoyed in small bites as one would a delicious meal. The writing is generally superb. Towles brings you right into the Metropol Hotel to live life alongside the Count and his friends and foes. For a novel to limited in its setting — the Count cannot leave so neither can we — it never gets boring.
The Count is a delightful character, someone I would have loved to call friend or uncle. He is not perfect by any means, but he is loyal, good, honorable and so many other praiseworthy qualities. His relationship with Nina and then Sofia as young girls reminded me of my own affectionate relationship with my father. Towles expertly differentiated between what could have been two very similar characters with Nina and Sofia, making both believable and likeable but wholly unique.
The cast of supporting characters, from the chef to the maître d’ to the concierge and seamstress, are each unique and endearing in their own ways. They remind me of the wide range of personalities that make up each of our own circles of friends and acquaintances, some by choice, some by chance, all by divine design.
A Gentleman in Moscow is, above all, charming. Presenting an interesting time and place without the innate American “better than” attitude. Rather, this book could have taken place anywhere, as it is filled with human personalities and human relationships that transcend borders.
I am definitely planning to read Towles’ debut novel, Rules of Civility, but as that one will probably take me just as long to finish, I may wait for next winter.
I was not in any way compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.