Book review and synopsis for A Gentleman in Moscow 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 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.
(By the way, 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.)
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of A Gentleman in MoscowQuick Plot Summary
The Prologue introduces Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Count who became a revolutionary hero due to a poem he wrote. On June 21, 1922, after the Russian Revolution, Rostov manages to avoid a death sentence due to his status as a revolutionary hero, but his noble birth means he is still sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol Hotel, where he has been living for many years.
In Book One, Rostov begins his house arrest and moves into a humble, small room at the Metropol. Rostov meets Nina, who is a long-term guest of the hotel. Nina is 9. Nina teaches Rostov about the inner workings of the hotel and eventually gives him a passkey for the hotel. Rostov also meets the Bishop, a waiter who Rostov dislikes because he's bad at his job.
In Book Two, Rostov meets up with Mishka, his old friend, who is romancing a woman named Katerina. Rostov also meets Anna Urbanova, an actress who Rostov makes love to. The Bishop gets promoted and continues to be a thorn in Rostov's side. As the years pass, Rostov becomes depressed and decides to kill himself. Nina is also now 13 and will be leaving the Metropol soon. However, the night of Rostov's planned suicide, Rostov comes across Abram, the hotel handyman, and they chat the rest of night, so he doesn't go through with it.
In Book Three, it's now 1930. Rostov, who has very discerning tastes, has been helping out at the restaurant (The Boyarsky) with Emile (head chef) and Andrey (maître d'). They call themselves the Triumvirate and meet daily to plan out the restaurant's activities. Anna and Rostov begin seeing each other on and off. Rostov also befriends Osip, a Soviet official who wants Rostov to teach him the ways of the privileged classes.
Nina comes to visit. When she returns years later, she has a young daughter Sofia, but her husband has been arrested and sent to Siberia. She asks Rostov to watch Sofia temporarily, but Nina never returns. Rostov and the rest of the hotel staff help to raise Nina. When Nina is 13, she falls down the stairs playing a game with Rostov and he finally leaves the Metropol to rush her to the hospital. Osip arranges for Rostov to return discreetly to the hotel. Meanwhile, Mishka gets sent to a labor camp in Siberia. When he gets out he is weak, and he (a former revolutionary) is critical of the revolution.
In Book Four, Sofia is now 17 and plays piano very well. Her piano teacher is a man named Viktor. Rostov also meets Katerina, who informs him that Mishka has died. Rostov admits to her that Mishka was the one who wrote the poem that made Rostov famous. Katerina leaves Rostov with Mishka's last project, a subversive book of quotes about the famine in Russia.
In Book Five, Sofia is headed to Paris soon for a piano perforance. Rostov has been planning escape. Rostov asks a man to deliver a letter to Richard, an American who once approached him to ask him to be a spy (Rostov refused, but befriended Richard). Rostov oversees an important dinner at the hotel, analyzing how the men are seated to understand the power dynamics in the room. Before Sofia leaves, Rostov gives her a map.
Through a carefully executed plan, Rostov is able to lock the Bishop in a storage room in the basement. Meanwhile, in Paris, Sofia finishes her performance and uses the map to find Richard's house. She gives Richard a package with the seating arrangement information that Rostov collected (e.g. valuable intelligence about the Russian power dynamics). In exchange, Richard orders barrage of phone calls to be placed to the Metropol, causing a fracas that allows Rostov to escape.
In the Afterword, we learn that Viktor and Rostov met up after the escape. The men are dressed similarly, and Viktor boards a train that serves as a diversion. Rostov returns to his home. His mansion was burned down, but he enters a nearby tavern where a woman is waiting for him (described as "willowy", which implies it's Anna).
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.
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I remember reading about this book when it came out, but I never got to it. Maybe I should look for it. Thanks for telling me about it.
Thanks for reading! Yeah, sometimes for books I’m on the fence on I’ll wait to see how much staying power it has. I think this book is better for more careful/patient readers (and also people who like history), but if you’re in the right mood for it, I do think it’s really good. Thanks again for your thoughts!
This was my absolute favourite book of 2018, you’re so right about reading it carefully, I thought all the tiny details were incredible.
Yes! I loved how everything came full circle, including a lot of smaller details — it would be such a shame to read this book and miss all of those things
This looks like it’ll be a fantastic read and a stimulating intellectual challenge. Great review and great tips.
Just finished reading this book. It was one of our book club choices and I’m looking so forward to our discussion of this story! I can hardly wait to see the series! Wonderful story and such endearing characters ❤️