Book Review : A Gentleman In Moscow
By Amor Towles
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.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
The only thing short in this novel is the title. A Gentleman In Moscow would fall into a genre of books that I would entitle, self-satisfied reads or epic moments in the minutia of life. It truly is much ado about nothing. I enjoy a good book like this to read slowly on cold snowy nights. So many contemporary books have choppy sentences, each short sentence falling off the page committing suicide – ping – ping – ping, in a steady rhythm. Towles doesn’t believe in short sentences, rather, his sentences leap, pirouette, saunter, graze, stroll, meander, sometimes get lost and found again, but each are interesting creating a dance of words.
While at the barber’s the Count has a mishap with another patron.
“Then he rose so abruptly that he knocked his bench back into the wall. At full height, he was no more than five foot six. His fists, which jutted from the cuffs of his jacket, were as red as his ears. When he advanced a step, Yaroslav backed against the edge of his counter. The fellow took another step toward the barber and wrested one of the scissors from his hand. Then, with the deftness of a much slighter man, he turned, took the Count by the collar, and severed the right wing of his mustaches with a single snip. Tightening his hold, he pulled the Count forward until they were nearly nose to nose.
‘You’ll have your appointment soon enough,’ he said.
Then shoving the Count back in the chair, he tossed the scissors on the floor and strolled from the shop.” (p.35-36)
The Count muses upon his new face, compliments of the unhappy customer.
“Yes, thought the Count, the world does spin.
In fact, it spins on its axis even as it revolves around the sun. And the galaxy turns as well, a wheel within a greater wheel, producing a chime of an entirely different nature than that of a tiny hammer in a clock. And when that celestial chime sounds, perhaps a mirror will suddenly serve its truer purpose – revealing to a man not who he imagines himself to be, but who has become.
The Count resumed his place in the chair.
‘A clean shave,’ he said to the barber. ‘A clean shave, my friend.'” (p. 37)
Though the central movement in the book centers around Count Alexander Rostov’s daily life in the Metropol Hotel, the backdrop is the Russian Revolution and the rise of power of communism under Stalin. These major events feel a little remote because Sasha (Alexander) is not directly involved, until people he loves become directly involved.
A few helpful things to know about Russia prior to reading this book:
Russians love multiple names, nick-names and diminutives for the same person.
A dacha, is a country home. Frequently used for gardening or as a vacation home.
A Bolshevik was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Party which was later named the Communist Party.
A “Former Person” would describe a person of the former aristocracy who were persecuted by the rising Bolshevik party.
Buildings referred to on Red Square; Boshoi Theater, St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kremlin.
The Metropol Hotel is close to Red Square.
I think the main reason I liked this book is because of the character of the Count and his evocative use of language. It is also reminiscent of my travels in Russia. I would highly recommend this book!
Here are a couple of more quotes that I enjoyed:
“After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a 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.” (p. 120-121)
“According to local lore, hidden deep within the forest was a tree with apples as black as coal – and if you could find this tree and eat of its fruit, you could start your life anew.” (p.121)
“Our churches, known the world over for their idiosyncratic beauty, for they brightly colored spires and improbable cupolas, we raze one by one. We topple the statues of old heroes and strip their names from the streets, as if they had been figments of our imagination. Our poets we either silence, or wait patiently for them to silence themselves.” (p.290)
“‘Mark my words, my friend: We have not burned Moscow to the ground for the last time.'” (p. 291)
“For as it turns out, one can revisit the past quite pleasantly, as long as one does so expecting nearly every aspect of it to have changed.” (p.461)
4 out of 5 stars
- the Mother
If you liked this one try At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, How To Be A Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide To Tudor Life by Ruth Goodman, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.