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
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 wanted to savour this one, word for word. Towles bestows on us a language to be treasured; a story to be remembered.
This was a remarkably enchanting narrative with a charming character. A gentleman, Rostov, has been put under hotel arrest. For the next several years, as he serves his time, relationships are cultivated from employees to guests to the visitors he receives and to a young girl whom he becomes a guardian for.
Very descriptive - I tasted almost every meal he ate - from the crisp and tartness of an apple; to the bitterness of his coffee. This is a man who truly separated himself from others in appreciating the simple things in life. A man who was duly present, authentic and honourable.
This is a story that should be read with a good bottle of brandy or simply with the purist adoration for a storyteller who can transcend time and magically entrance us. Bravo, Towles. Bravo. I bequeath a 5 star.
Ladies and gentleman! I have a confession to make! I pride myself that I am always honest in my reviews and for this reason I want to start the year with a confession about my original review of AGIM. I was dishonest. I increased my rating and I gave it a favorable review that was not in accordance to my real feelings. I do not know why, probably because so many of my friends were in love with it and I felt that I should have had the same opinion. During last year I've thought about this book a lot and a negative review I read today (by Jonathan) made me decide to come clean.
My true opinion about this book is that it is neither charming or fun. I could not stand the main character as I found him pretentious and superficial. The plot lacked realism and I do not feel it reflects the Russia of that time.
I also have to admit that O only read 60% of it.
Original review: I can define this book with one word, namely charming. As the word’s definition states, the book was very pleasant and attractive, thanks to its protagonist, count Alexander Rostov.
When the Bolsheviks came to power Count Rostov is sentenced to home arrest in Hotel Metropol, one of the most famous and elegant establishments of this kind in Moscow. Moved from his quarters to a small attic room, the Count needs to adjust to life in confinement and he does that with wit, dignity, poise and elegance. He treats the hotel personnel with kindness and interest and makes unforgettable friends from the employees of the hotel and guests. The most memorable is a little girl, Nina who becomes the count’s guide into the secrets of the hotel.
The book reads as a beautiful fairy tale. Its lack of realism and the count’s capacity to be above all Russia’s problems and also his own made me reduce one star. I enjoyed this novel although I read it very slowly. Some parts were marvelously enchanting others less so. All in all a beautiful book, quite fitting for this season.
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 .
Read others reviews of this book for I cannot do it justice, but I will say I just loved it, loved the Count and his interactions with everyone, especially Nina, and later Sophia. So many times this gentleman had me laugh out loud. I would have loved to have met him!