A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Viking Publishing 2016
462 Pages $27.00 Hardcover
What would you do if you had just been sentenced to spend the rest of your life indoors? albeit at a very nice and posh hotel, but nonetheless indoors? This is exactly what happens in the most recent novel by Amor Towles, A Gentleman In Moscow.
We come to find the Count or Alexander Rostov when he is leaving his room at the Metropol in Moscow to go to his sentencing. The Count bids the room good-bye and walks out fully prepared to never see the room, or the hotel, for that matter, again. However, because of his past, apparently the Count is some sort of Russian hero the tribunal sentenced him to house arrest that the very hotel he just bid good-bye.
Throughout the book we learn of what I will describe as the Count’s obsessive compulsions and his need for rigid traditions. As an aristocrat the Count is used to certain things with which he will not part even during his house arrest. His books, his chair and his schedule. Right from the start we can see Amor Towles sense of humor the same way as it was presented in Rules of Civility. When the Count returns to the Metropol he assumes he will still be living in the same manner to which he was accustomed, including the same extravagant room he had left just a few hours prior. However, he quickly finds that he will be living on the upper floor of the hotel and …… nope…… not the pent house. In fact he is going to living in a very small room and not just that, he will have to earn his keep and in order to do so, the Count becomes a waiter. Although he is moved to a small room he makes sure that all his things from the very large room on the third floor are moved up to his new room. When we next see the Count he is contemplating his need for such possessions now that he is in this much smaller room.
Throughout the story we learn about bits of the Count’s life including his relationship with his family. Especially his relationship with his sister of whom he has a picture hanging in his new “bedroom.”
The book is a sociopolitical story of Russia and for those of us who know very little about Russia (would love to learn more) I couldn’t help but notice that as the Count changed and matured through the years so was Russia, outside the doors of the Metropol changing as well. It is true that the book is told during some of the most difficult days of Russia, maybe event he most difficult years but as well are human years difficult between the 30s and the end of one’s life. This is when we learn the most…. this is when we, as humans, get our bruises and learn to cope with disapointment. It felt to me as if the book was talking about a metamorphosis we all must go through to become the people we ultimately become. The same goes for Russia. It is time, and it appears that they all felt it, that she too should change. We come face to face with these thoughts as we listen in on a conversation the Count has with one of his friends who came to see him at the Metropol. A poet who paces about non-stop was trying to explain to the Count that Russian people were not less than anyone just because they felt the need to destroy or better yet, reconstruct the past. “We turn the gun on ourselves not because we are more indifferent and less cultured than the British or the French or the Italians. On the contrary. We are prepared to destroy that which we have created because we believe more than any of the in the power of the picture, the poem, the prayer or the person.”
I thought that the sprinkling of the various characters was very well done. There was Mina, the young girl the Count met early on during his house arrest. Nina is a curious child and she and the Count got on numerous exploration trips with thin the hotel. Nina possesses one of the hotel’s skeleton keys and she shows the Count where they can stand to listen in on some of the meetings going on in the ballroom. She is fascinated by decorum and political coverations and we come to meet her again later on in the story. Miskha is also another character who helps the Count overcome stability and helps him see how he is set in his ways. The narrator tells us that this is not whom the Count whats to be and so he begins to change……. As is Russia as well.
throughout the book Towles sprinkles in some history of Russia, literature and art….. Ok, so one of the books the Count really likes is Anna Karenina —- I have not read it and there is a spoiler in this book — Just FYI 🙂
This novel is without a doubt one of the best this year. I thought that the history lessons were great and have made me want to learn more about the Country. I thought that the relationship between Russia and the Count were very well told especially as we see the parallels between Russia coming of age and the Count becoming less rigid. I though the contrasts were very well made. Throughout the story I could feel the pain of the people and their love for their Country. As always, Amos Towles writing is poetic without being boring and his descriptions are so on point that I cannot help but feel that I was sitting in the lobby of the Metropol while all this was going on.
Other books by this Author:
Rules of Civility
Published by Viking, 2011