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May 10, 2017

Gentleman in Moscow

Gentleman in Moscow

By: Amor Towles

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel for writing a poem that is determined by a Bolshevik tribunal to be subversive.  But, in spite of his imprisonment, the Count goes on to live a full life of work, friendship, culture, and love.  A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of the Russian nobleman’s life from the 1920s at the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution through the cold war days of the 1950s.   While events of Russian history serve as a background for the book, the focus of the story is the Count, a charming and honorable man, who, despite loss and injustice, never becomes embittered or cynical about the world. He says “human beings, after all, deserve not only our consideration but our reconsideration.”   This outlook leads him to develop unexpected friendships with the hotel staff, members of the Politburo, famous film stars, an American spy, and most importantly, children.  The Count copes with his confinement by focusing on mundane daily tasks and carrying over routines as best he can from his former life.  He also maintains the “rules of civility” (to borrow from Towles other best-selling novel) of the aristocracy, mainly because he believes that is the way a gentleman behaves in order to make life better for all with whom he comes in contact.

Towles prose flows well, and the details he chooses to include help to paint a vivid picture of the world of the Metropol. He artfully depicts life in the Metropol as reflective of the bigger world outside.  One example:  Elegant food and wine pairings are seen as a privilege of the rich and the nobility and the restaurant’s wine list runs counter to the ideals of the revolution.  So, the labels on all the wine bottles are removed, rendering them all “equal,” available to diners as only “red” or “white,” and all at the same price – a reflection of a classless, socialist society.  However, if one expects a point of view that decries the evils of Communism, it won’t be found here, as the Count find “political discourse of any persuasion to be tedious.” But, the profound changes in Russian society, happening at break-neck speed, are reflected upon by the Count, and he is saddened, not by his own misfortune, but by attempts to sweep away every cultural vestige of “his” Russia.

The Count is a person that the reader will enjoy getting to know, the epitome of the ability to “bloom where you are planted.”  A Gentleman is Moscow is a wonderful character study and is recommended for readers who enjoyed A Man Called Ove.


Review By:  Donna LeFeber