By Amor Towles, A charming novel about a man under house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel after the Russian Revolution
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a delightful novel that somehow completely slipped passed me when it came out a few years back. I later saw it around, but assumed it was a biography and ignored it.
Eventually it popped back up on my radar, and I’ve been reading it on and off for the past few months. This past weekend, I finally sat down to polish it off.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a fictional story about a Russian aristocrat, Count Alexander Rostov, who narrowly escapes execution during the Russian Revolution. A poem he wrote in University made him an early revolutionary hero so his life is spared, but he is sentenced to house arrest at the famed Metropol Hotel in Moscow. He is confined within the walls of the Metropol while the world outside changes.
With humor, energy and charm, the book follows the Count’s life at the Metropol as he tries to eke out an existence and make sense of his circumstances.
See A Gentleman in Moscow on Amazon.
The trailer for A Gentleman in Moscow from Viking Books is really well done and nicely illustrated. I highly recommend checking it out. It provides an illustrated primer about the basic plot of the book.
A Gentleman in Moscow takes place on a backdrop of rapid change going on as a result of the Russian Revolution which toppled the monarchy and well as all other aristocratic classes in Russia. With the Bolsheviks at the helm, the once-revolutionary powers were forced to figure out how to channel their insurgent ideas into trying to create a stable government. The result was decades of famine, violence, censorship and destruction.
Stuck in the hotel, Rostov sees as people come and go out of his life, and it’s through this lens that the changes in Russia are refracted throughout the book. A lot of the changes are subtle, in the styling of facial hair or shifts in viewpoints or demeanor. A careful reader will get a lot more out of this book than someone who wants to rush through it to cross it off their list.
The book is structured a bit like a palindrome, where many of the events of the beginning end up reappearing and coming full circle towards the end. The neat sense of symmetry appealed to the OCD part of me that longs for order. Parallels and situations that mirror each other are found throughout the book in a way that highlights how circumstances change and people are forced to adapt.
Along with its main plotline, the book mixes in occasional comedic relief, political commentary and some philosophical tangents. I thought it did a good job of balancing these elements in a charming and entertaining way. The beginning of it feels a little slower as it sets up a lot of stuff that happens later, but I enjoyed the book the whole way through.
Kenneth Branaugh is developing A Gentleman in Moscow for the small screen as a limited series.
For all the details, see Everything We Know About the Gentleman in Moscow Movie Adaptation.
Read it or Skip it?
If you love good, entertaining literature and enjoy having some history and philosophy mixed in to your books, then A Gentleman in Moscow is the perfect book for you. For me, as someone who has always found the Russian Revolution (and its aftermath) to be a fascinating time, I thought it was really fantastic.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that you might want to set aside a large chunk of time for. In addition to being a hefty book, it’s worth taking the time to read it thoroughly, to enjoy the humor, and to pay attention to all the details that have been carefully and purposefully woven into the story.
The only people I would not recommend this to is those who usually skim long books. Skimming this is pointless, since you will miss a lot of stuff and nuance and probably end up finding it boring. Much of the “action” and meaning in this book happens subtly and through reading between the lines of events that are going on. If you skim it, you’ll end up missing everything and wondering why people like it.
Have you read this book? What did you think? See A Gentleman in Moscow on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
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