A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  53,100 Ratings  ·  8,134 Reviews

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility , Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style.

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. 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.

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.


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.

Vyshinksy: 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.

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….”

In the year 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to House arrest at the famed Moscow Hotel Metropol. 
Once of the landed elite of Nizhy Novgorod, the Count must live out the rest of his days in one small hotel room. As the Bolsheviks have persevered following their revolution, no long are there ruling classes in Russia, only comrades. It is under these conditions that Count Rostov has become a former person who can no longer step outside of the Metropol. Using this premise, Amor Towles has woven prose to create an enchanting story that makes up the Count's changed course of existence.

Over time, Count Rostov grew to call himself the luckiest man in Russia. This realization, however, occurs after he has been in the hotel Metropol for over thirty and forged close friendships with her staff and inhabitants. At first, he is a once proud man who has had all of his material possessions taken away from him and has to make do with life in a room, until the day that the Count encounters nine-year-old Nina, altering the course of his life. A precocious girl with an eye for adventure, Nina takes the Count with her on all of her forays through the hotel. No longer is the Count confined to a room with his books and manuscripts, but at the whims of an enchanting palace. House arrest becomes luxurious instead of the intended punishment.

Towles creates a compelling cast of characters to complement the Count, none more vital to sustaining his existence than Sofia, Nina's daughter who she leaves in his care. Rather than resenting this turn of events, the Count raises Sofia as his own daughter, and two become inseparable. Yet, Sofia is raised by the entire staff of the Metropol: Emile, the head chef of the Boyarsky restaurant; Andrey, the maitre d' restaurant; Marina, the seamstress who becomes a mother figure; and Vasily the concierge. The group becomes like family over the course of the Count's house arrest, and with the luxurious conditions of the lobby, bar, and restaurant, it becomes evident that the Count is the luckiest man in all of Russia.

What makes A Gentleman in Moscow a true work of historical fiction are Towles' apt descriptions of life occurring outside of the Metropol's walls. Stalin has taken control of the country, and Russians can either join the party, get shipped to Siberia, or otherwise conveniently disposed of. Relations with the west are tenuous at best but Towles relays these feelings in the Count's relations with American ambassador Richard Wilshire, who becomes a key figure in the novel. As long as one has friends within the party, which the Count manages to attain, even enemies like him can remain safe on a daily basis, even if it means living within the walls of a hotel.

A Gentleman in Moscow evokes an era of the tsar when the city rivals Paris and London as a destination for elite classes throughout Europe. A member of the landed aristocracy prior the Bolshevik Revolution, Count Rostov is well versed in literature, history, and appears to be a true renaissance man. Through his relationship with Nina and Sofia, Towles shows the Count to have a genuine soft spot in his heart as well, turning him into a truly memorable character. A delight of an enchanting story to read, A Gentleman in Moscow was worth the hype of the reviews I have read about it and rates 4.5 shiny stars.

Tears were streaming down my face the last several pages. Turning each page slower - and slower - breathless - filled with gratitude- overwhelmed by what this rare book offers and then delivering a wonderful satisfying ending......to the already - rich- wonderful-absolutely marvelous novel.

Goose bumps and butterfly fluttering.....the writing is pulsing with life. Amor Towles's
leading man...."Count Rostov" ....[Alexander Ilyich Rostov]....or "Sasha", to a select few old friends, is THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL male character to come along in recent literature. I can't think of any other male character with the type of astounding dignity that 'Count Rostov' exhibits.

I was either losing sleep reading this book, tossing out all other daytime plans to continue, reading....or I was obsessively thinking about this book when I wasn't reading it.

My early thoughts were about Russia and the how the Bolsheviks came into power.....and the years that followed. Russia became symbolic of the spread of communism throughout the world.....resulting in the end of all aristocracy ----
Not only was Rostov's aristocracy being stripped away, but his self expression and freedom of speech was being taken from his as well. He wrote poetry.....and a poem called "Where Is It Now".....[I thought about this interesting title for some time]. As in where does Court Rostov stand now?
Rostov "has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class", according to
The People's Commissariat For Internal Affairs in Moscow 1922.

I kept thinking - isn't it 'somewhat' an odd punishment to be given a life sentence of confinement to the walls inside a hotel? A grand hotel at that-- The Metropol Hotel. I mean "Eloise" .... in the Plaza Hotel in New York City was happy, but she was free to step outside.
The Count's sentence is clear. Should he step outside the Hotel at any time, he will be shot-killed! I lost a few hours of my mind -- thinking 'only' about this.
Why? What else were choices of punishment for an aristocrat if not killed? Did they have prisons? And - where was his money coming from? Was food included without him paying for it in the restaurants in the hotel? How on earth could he possibly earn money? Buy clothes? Essentials? - For the rest of his life? How will he spend his time - and keep sane?
I was simply curious. And most -- how might I have behaved if I were in the counts situation? I'd like to think I might have stood tall- held my dignity - be the gentle woman - as Alexander was a GRAND GENTLEMAN.
The Count was a fabulous human being....a man I would love to have shared a glass of wine with. He was classy - witty- wise - intelligent- charming and kind. There are endless likable characteristics about Alexander. He was generous with his soul.

Count Rostov's days of writing poetry were behind him. He moved into a small room on the sixth floor in the attic. He was moved out of his luxury suite that he had lived in for four years in the past. Most of his 'valuable' books were back in Paris...but he kept one book that once belonged to his father -one he never had found time to read. "The Essays of Montaigne". He will finally have time to read Michael de
Montaigne' essays now ---who was one of the most significant philosophers of the French renaissance known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre.

In the first few weeks of living in the Metropol Hotel-- Alexander holds himself high - has no interest in bitterness ---GOD I LOVED THIS MAN---and quietly stayed in his room, reading, and reflecting. He ate his meals in either of the two restaurants: the Boyarsky or the Piazza. Count Rostov being a wine and food connoisseur, is a treat for us readers - as the descriptions of the food and wine are mouthwatering-savory-and scrumptious. The way the tables were set -the waiters and chef add to delightful glory as well. I could smell and taste the fish, while visualizing the seating in the dining room.
As for the conversations......
Well....in steps nine year old Nina Kulikova. Too adorable for words -right off the bat!!!
She's quite the conversationalist!!! She's living in the hotel with her father -and seems to have spare time for wandering. Their lovely friendship begins over lunch in the Piazza. Nina - of course - invites herself to Alexander's table by simply pulling up a chair, sitting down, and staring at his food. Their friendship continues when Nina manages to coerce Court Rostov into joining her in one of her many hidden excursions. SPYING into the secret passageways and locked rooms with the stolen key she has.
So 'how' does a precocious nine-year-old coerce a grown man to sneak around a hotel with her?
Nina says:
"Oh come along"
"I'd rather not"
"Don't be such a fuddy-duddy".
"I'm not a fuddy-duddy".
"Can you be so sure?"
"A man can never be entirely sure that he is not a fuddy-duddy. That is axiomatic to the term".
Off they go! One minute Nina is interested in knowing the rules of being a princess ( as when they first met in the restaurant), and the next moment she is enthralled by the assembly's energy and sense of purpose...( from when they are listening in on the Assemblies political discourse).
Nina is a wonderful companion - and because of their spy games, Alexander was able to listen to other 'fuddy-duddy's' discuss political and social changes.

Over the years - three decades at Hotel Metropol--Alexander makes many friends and acquaintances. His closest friends with the staff are: Andrey, maitre d' of the Boyarsky, Emile the Chef - Vasily the concierge and Marina the seamstress.

His old friend from Imperial University in St. Petersburg comes to visit him. Mikhail
Fyodorovich (Mishka), was in town to help plan the inaugural congress of RAPP.
Such a lovely friendship these two men shared. The Count took pleasure in his old friends romantic skirmish; yet felt a sting of envy.

Anna Urbanova a celebrity actress ....becomes a between-the-sheets friend.
Other people come and go ---
Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov is a former colonel of the Red Army- whom Alexander has many political conversations with.... and not only about Russia, but the rest of the world. They watch and discuss the movie Casablanca--- and the symbolism is achingly beautiful.
Out of all the people who come and go - it's Nina who has Alexander's heart the most.
A time comes when she does leave the hotel - but then she comes back years later for a brief visit - a visit that will alter Alexanders life.

Alexander Ilyich Rostov: somehow this man knew that life was never meant to be a struggle. If only I could learn from him. As The Count learned from his ancestors.....
"If a man does not master his circumstances he is bound to be mastered by them".

A Masterpiece! One of the most phenomenal book books in 'years'.

It's Nov. - almost Thanksgiving: I've read so many outstanding books this year it's ridiculously crazy-terrific. 2016 has been a year of favorite books....but "A Gentleman in Moscow" tops them all! Amor Towles delivered as a gift!

5+ The Hotel Metropol in Moscow, within sight of the Kremlin, will see much in the coming years. 
It will also become the home and prison of the former person known as the Count Alexander Rostov. Sentenced by a Bolshevk Tribunal for seditious poetry he is confined for life in this Hotel. Summarily taken from the suite he had inhabited for four years, he is brought to the attic and given one of the storage rooms as his new home.

One of the most wonderful and memorable characters one is fortunate to make the acquaintance of, the duke, no longer to be addressed as his excellency, will make the most of his imprisonment. Through his eyes we will experience the many changes in Russia, from Stalin to Khrushchev, as the hotel is the home for many meetings and dinners of the top ranking members of the politburo. A friendship with a young eight year old girl will bring color to his life that will last for over thirty years.

This book as something for everyone, humor, some laugh at loud, some more veiled, food and wine pairings, amazing friendships, much history, literature, architecture and philosophy, even American movies. Some scenes that will surely leave you with a lump in your throat. Words, and insights that had me putting the book down just to think about what I read. Tightly constructed, things in the beginning that will come into play later in the book. Such a brilliant rendering of time and place.

I usually don't gush about a novel, but I loved everything about this book. What I write can't really do it justice, but whenever I think about this story, these characters, it make me smile. I wish they could step out of the book so I could meet them in person. As much as I loved his first book, I appreciated this one more. Read it for yourself, I am sure there is something in it form you to appreciate.

This really was a special book, one which at times felt almost magical.

Count Alexander Rostov was always a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. He was always nattily dressed, participating in intelligent conversation, enjoying fine food and drink, and the company of erudite and beautiful people. Rostov lived in grand fashion in Moscow's Hotel Metropol, a hotel just across the street from the Kremlin, and he thrived on being a part of the buzz that passed through its doors and around its bustling neighborhood.

In 1922, he was sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest at the Metropol, although the Bolshevik tribunal that issued the sentence wasn't simply content with allowing him to continue living in grandeur—they reduced his living quarters to one small room in the hotel belfry. But while no longer being able to step outside the hotel doors, and having to cram most of one's cherished possessions and family heirlooms into one tiny room might bring a lesser man to his knees, Rostov is (mostly) unbowed. He doesn't allow himself to miss a step of his usual routine, and it isn't long before he realizes how a life lived within one building can be just as full of excitement as one lived all over the world.

"...if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them."

While Russia and the world are experiencing events which cause major upheaval, Rostov doesn't miss out on it all. He can take the country's temperature, of sorts, by studying the behavior of the hotel guests, its managers, and its employees. While many may have written him off as a frivolous dandy, it's not long before many realize the Count's worth is far greater despite his diminished circumstances. He quickly is woven into the fabric of all of the hotel's goings-on, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, and forms relationships that have ripples in the outside world, even as he realizes that the world he once knew and loved has changed.

"For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they set into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother-of-pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness."

Spanning several decades, A Gentleman in Moscow is rich with emotion, social commentary, humor, even Russian history. As he did in Rules Of Civility , which also was a fantastic book (see my review), Amor Towles both reveres and satirizes the world in which this book takes place, but the love he has for his characters is a beacon above it all.

While at times the book got a little too detailed with the workings of Russian government, poetry, and Bolshevik history, it always quickly got itself back on track and brought me back into the book's heart. These characters were so special, so fascinating, and Towles' storytelling was so vivid, I almost could see the scenes playing out in front of my eyes as I read them. And honestly, Count Rostov is a character worthy of being put up on a pedestal like other unforgettable ones.

I was a little late to the party on reading this, but I'm so glad I did, and I'm glad it lived up to the praise so many others have bestowed upon it. If you like novels with social commentary, satire, history, and a huge dollop of heart, pick up A Gentleman in Moscow . You'll marvel at it, and even want more.
Reviews source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29430012-a-gentleman-in-moscow

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