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 no 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. —Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
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In 1922 Count Alexander Rostov was 30 and a spoiled Russian aristocrat, living a life of “Dining. Discussing. Reading. Reflecting.” He was of the upper class, the type of man the Bolsheviks loved to kill. His saving grace was a poem attributed to him, on that was “considered a call to action” after the failed 1905 revolt.
For that reason, the presiding judge of The Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs declared that although Count Rostov “succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class,” and should be put against a wall and executed, the poem has made him on of “the heroes of the prerevolutionary cause.” Because of this status, Rostov is sentenced to return to Metropol, where is has been living in large suite for the last four years. BUT
should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.
However, his beautiful life of luxury in the large suite of rooms is over, and he is conscripted to a small attic room with the few items that room can hold. Using his ability to always find the best in a situation, he expands his small attic room to storage, and finds a way to spread out a bit and make the most of a cramped life.
It is with this same ingenuity that he survives and flourishes for the next 34 years at the Metropol, watching as Russia transforms and changes from the county he loves. The Count finds purpose, love, friendship, adventure, and intrigue all within the walls of this glorious hotel.
This is one of those books that you wish could go on and on.
I got this book as the first of my Book of The Month Club books, and it was the perfect start!
It took me awhile to get into this A Gentleman in Moscow. I don’t blame this on Towles’ writing, but on myself, or on the physical book, maybe. I usually read books on my Kindle, because they’re so portable. But my copy of A Gentleman in Moscow is an actual, physical (wonderful smelling, rich pages, clear font) book. And, as wonderful as they are to read, they are just not as easy to carry from one place to another.
So I was really only reading it at home, and getting distracted with other books on my Kindle. And, in late November, life threw me for a loop, and I wasn’t reading much at all.
Also, it’s a thoughtful, insightful story, so it’s not fast-paced (until it is!).
But it was the best book ever to finish on New Year’s Eve, as my last book of 2016. It had all the feels: Amusement, sadness, intrigue, nostalgia, love.
And, speaking of Count Rostov, he is the best and most interesting of characters. He takes his confining circumstances and makes the most of them, creating a wide and varied world within this one building. A man of education and refinement, he uses these to make his world a little brighter, and to brighten the world of those around him. Because the Metropol is so central to Moscow, both for the party elites and those visiting dignitaries, Rostov’s view of the world isn’t as small as it could be.
His relationship with the young Nina Kulikova, a lively girl living in the hotel with her father, is wonderful. She is a Russian Eloise, learning the secrets to the hotel (and to life) with the zeal of a child. Without much thought, Rostov is pulled into her adventures, and he becomes the equivalent of a young, fun uncle. This relationship becomes crucial to Rostov and the story in many ways, as do many of the smaller details in early chapters.
This is very much a character-driven story: It’s the story of a young man saved from death only to live what could become a life of tedium, a life that he turns into an enormous life of adventure and plenty. But Rostov’s many adventures within the Metropol are always tempered with the reality of the USSR — showing how the common man was denied even the smallest of luxuries, even as those in power are provided with the best food and other luxuries (while still allowing the finery to belong to ‘the people.
Readers get a glimpse of the wonder that is Rostov. In stating early in his confinement that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” and that “imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness,” we see him make the most, and even more, of his circumstances. Throughout the book, Rostov’s character is shown to be the driving force in keeping him engaged in life, and in keeping many others safe and happy.
But the character-driven parts of the book are tempered with smaller adventures and day-to-day mishaps, keeping this from being just the introspections and thoughts of one displaced gentleman. (I’ve read those kinds of character driven books, and I’m sure you have as well–the writing and description is wonderful, but the details drag on and on.)
And suddenly it IS plot-driven. There’s a huge bit of intrigue, where many of the smaller details of the book show up as important pieces of a puzzle.
So A Gentleman in Moscow combines the best of both worlds–a character-driven book with a plot! I loved it. It left me with a huge book hangover (but I’ve already recovered, because it’s a new year!!!).
All I can say is READ IT. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful book. I LOVED it.
Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Pages: Hardcover, 480 pages