A Gentleman in Moscowby Published 06 Sep 2016
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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.
"A Gentleman in Moscow" Reviews
"… the Count hadn’t the temperament for revenge; he hadn’t the imagination for epics; and he certainly hadn’t the fanciful ego to dream of empires restored. No. His model for mastering his circumstances would be a different sort of captive altogether: an Anglican washed ashore. Like Robinson Crusoe stranded on the Isle of Despair, the Count would maintain his resolve by committing to the business of practicalities. Having dispensed with dreams of quick discovery, the world’s Crusoes seek shelter and a source of fresh water; they teach themselves to make fire from flint; they study their island’s topography, its climate, its flora and fauna, all the while keeping their eyes trained for sails on the horizon and footprints in the sand."
Moscow, 1922: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to a life of isolation within the walls of the illustrious Metropol Hotel. His crime being simply that he is an aristocrat and a poet and therefore a threat to the ideals of the party. Removed from his luxurious suite and banished to the cramped quarters of an attic room, the Count resolves to make the best of his situation – which he undoubtedly accomplishes with the dignity of a gentleman and tasteful good humor.
You may ask how a story about a man imprisoned within such lodgings, no matter how grand the edifice, could hold your interest. Well, the answer is superb writing, wonderful characters, interesting history, dazzling storytelling, and a delightful dash of wit! I could carry on with more gushing adjectives, but I’m sure you get the picture! Needless to say, I adored the Count and this book. From the “Triumvirate” of close personal friends that share in the Count’s reverent appreciation of fine food and drink, to the adventurous Nina who teaches the Count the innermost secrets of the hotel, to the steadfast and reserved friend Mishka, to the lovely and celebrated actress, Anna, and to the unlikely party friend, Osip, we become bosom buddies ourselves with this diverse cast of characters. I did not want to leave these friends when I turned the last page!
The Count’s admiration of great literature and music and exquisite food are ones I suspect most readers will find quite delightful. One could almost imagine sitting in the Boyarsky, "the finest restaurant in Moscow, if not in all of Russia", across from the Count and indulging in the most enticing dishes, so vivid are the descriptions of the food. How about just a little taste of that Latvian stew – "The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients came together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggested the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine." Or a generous pouring of a vintage bottle of wine – "In a sip, it would evoke the timing of that winter’s thaw, the extent of that summer’s rain, the prevailing winds, and the frequency of clouds. Yes, a bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place, a poetic expression of individuality itself." A cherished copy of Anna Karenina has been a constant companion of our distinguished Count, and I am sure many will appreciate the value of that sacred tome as well.
This book is not just a hedonistic treasure; there exists a compelling plot that Amor Towles executes brilliantly. You have to read it to see for yourself. Steeped in the atmosphere of the time and place, A Gentleman in Moscow is a book not to be missed. With the end of the year approaching and the time for resolutions to be put in place, I have resolved, like the Count, to try to live my life to the fullest, no matter what small literal and figurative boundaries in which I feel myself confined.
I didn't know how to review this book. I think the style of the writing, with its miniature microcosm approach was 90% the reason why I gave A Gentleman in Moscow 5 stars.
If you want a glimpse proper into the ramifications of the Great War then I urge you to read the non-fiction books, some of which are excellent.
The bolshevik revolution is just a backdrop in this story. The ease, education, class, and silence of the main character was a delight to read. I think it's not fine literature. I would disagree with whomever said the contrary.
I wanted to read this because of the wonderful story that Towles gave us in Rules of Civility, that wonderful sense of time and place - New York in the 1930's. This is a different story, but what is the same is the brilliant story telling, the amazing sense of time and place. This time we see Moscow starting in 1922 snd spanning 30 years, through the eyes of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and we get a window view of what is happening in Moscow, in Russia, in the world. It is literally a window view because the Count has been placed under house arrest and is destined to spend his years in a luxury hotel, the Metropol. It is not, however, the luxury suite that he has been living in for the last several years, but a small attic room that he has been relegated to .
Having lived the life of an aristocrat, how will he survive this exile ? It is with the gift of adventure from a little girl who favors wearing yellow and who shows him places in the hotel he has never been. It is with the gift of wonder over a simple beehive and memories that the old handyman gives him with a small taste of honey turning out to be a gift of life. It is with the gift of intimacy, love from a beautiful actress. It is with occasional visits from his best friend Mishka who gives him the gift of their shared past and love of literature, and with friendships from a cast of characters including an unlikely one with Osip Glebnikov, Red Army colonel and official of the Party. It is also with his strength of character that as a reader I hope to find in every hero in every novel I read.
I can't say that I was taken with every page . There were a few times when I thought it was a little lengthy but then, then the love, the friendships and a little girl named Sofia fill the story with so much heart and humanity, I can hardly give this book any less than five stars.
I'm grateful to Viking/Penguin and Edelweiss for approving an ARC of this book ( after two refusals I requested it again and third time was a charm! ) Thank you .
Vyshinsky: Why did you write the poem?
Rosov: It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be sitting at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands.
Vyshinksy: And where was that exactly?
Rostov: In the south parlor at Idlehour.
Rosov: The Rostov estate in Nizhny Novgorod.
Vyshinksy: Ah, yes. Of course. How apt. But let us return our attention to your poem. Coming as it did-in the more subdued years after the failed revolt of 1905--many considered it a call to action. Would you agree with that assessment?
Rosov: All poetry is a call to action.
Hotel Metropol, Moscow
This is just a snippet from the appearance of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs on 21 June 1922. Rostov was a member of the wrong class and a "poet", as well. He was destined for a firing squad or an all expense paid trip to Siberia where he could still end up with a bullet in his head. The way the Russians were deciding who was a threat to their new nation and the proper punishment to be enforced per case was so arbitrary and inconsistent that it was impossible to anticipate what your fate was going to be once you came before the Committee.
Luckily for all of us, Rostov received a rather unusual punishment. He was put under hotel arrest for the rest of his life. He could not set foot outside the walls of the Metropol Hotel or he would be executed immediately. Given the alternatives, having to live in this grand hotel for the rest of his life was actually a gift. It was a microcosm of a city with a barbershop, clothing stores, and restaurants readily available for a man with discerning needs. He would finally have time to read, though he had left his books in Paris when he decided to come back to Russia and was now stuck with the dusty tomes of his father.
They had different tastes. He periodically made a stab at reading his father’s favorite book of Montaigne, but soon discovered it was the perfect height to level his table. Of course, the beautiful room with the balcony that had plenty of space for his family possessions was taken away from him. He was relocated to a small room in the attic.
He was constricted, but alive.
I was only a few pages in before I knew that the Count and I were not only going to be the best of friends, but that he was also going to be a model for how a man of honor should conduct himself. Here is an example of the Count telling us to reevaluate how we see the people we meet:
”After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of the hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration--and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
We do have to make a lot of snap judgements about people. Rarely are they all that accurate, though it is amazing how difficult it is to erase and rewrite the first impression we have of someone. I’ve been surprised more than once by discovering the depth of someone whom I thought was a shallow nincompoop. We’ve all felt the sting of people judging us too harshly or seeing us for someone less than who we are. I’ve experienced people actually loathing me, leaving me baffled as to what I could have possibly done to induce this level of animosity. Of course, it has to be some misconception, but nearly impossible to fix once they’ve locked me up with the other criminals in the dark, damp cells of their mind.
The Count always erred on the side of trusting too much rather than condemning someone too hastily. He was such a contrast to the new government who judged quickly and harshly with no compassion or consideration for circumstances. After all, Count Rostov was the last gentleman in Moscow, most of the rest having fled or been shot. He never forgot his breeding or his place in the world even if his universe had shrunk to the size of a city block.
His best friend Mishka, a poet, floated in and out of his life. He brought with him the golden memories of their childhood. They could reminiscence about the days of young adulthood when life was a pear, and the juice ran down their chins, and the sticky nectar of shared experiences was a fragrance that filled the room around them. Those were the days, as fleeting as they proved to be.
The Count was not lonely. After all, this was a grand hotel with new people coming and going every day, and there were even some people who elected to stay on a more permanent basis, like say an aging, but still beautiful starlet. ”After taking a quick look around, the Count crossed the empty sitting room and entered the bedchamber, where a willowy figure stood in silhouette before one of the great windows. At the sound of his approach, she turned and let her dress slip to the floor with a delicate whoosh….”
How may I be of service madam?
Not that there was ever a question of his character, but when a friend dropped a child, a girl, into his care, he proved remarkably adept at the task of raising this child. What was supposed to be a few months turned into decades. He loved her as if she were his own.
The author Amor Towles at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow
Amor Towles’s first book Rules of Civility was one of my favorite books I read that year. There is no sophomore slump with his second book. This is a charming book lyrically written. So spend a few hours with Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and see how to live a good life despite being made a caged bird.
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I guess charm is like humor. The same material doesn't work for everyone. There are parts of this book that I enjoyed, but I wasn't charmed.
It reminded most of a children's story about playing in an old house on a rainy day when you can't go outside. Complete with a woman to scold for the damage that you did to your clothes while playing. His friends seemed as much imagined as real.
I was grateful that he grew up in the course the book. But, it's still much a fairytale about an aristocrat in the Soviet era.