A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Rating: ★★★★★ // Instant Classic
Favorite Line: “If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”
Oh boy this book is amazing. I could read this book all day, and I did not want it to end.
“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”
Summary (From GoodReads)
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.
This book has depth, like bottom of the ocean depth. It spans about 30 years, never leaves the Metropol hotel, except in stories told by outside characters, and yet makes you feel like you were brought all over Russia, and even all over the world. Having such a secluded setting sets up for a boring book–I mean who wants to read a book where the character literally never goes anywhere? But instead Towles is able to amplify the setting and use it to expand the ideas and the characters in the book. By the end the Metropol seems like a home and a safeguard, and not a luxury hotel.
Count Rostov is an amazing character. As said in the description above, he is isolated for being an aristocrat, in particular an aristocrat who does not want to conform to the Bolshevik ideals, and even in isolation, he attempts to maintain the way of life he has always known. Rostov is extremely intelligent, witty and well-educated. His education shines in his discussions with the guests of the Metropol, and his intelligence shines while dealing with the staff of the Metropol, which changes dramatically throughout his time there.
We also see a soft side of Rostov in his friendship with Nina, a young Russian girl who also lived in the Metropol with her family, and later with Sofia, Nina’s daughter. He turns into a father/grandfather figure to these girls and we see a proud man buckle and soften at the hands of two young girls. Towles makes the change gradual, and therefore believable, but he also rightly keeps some sense of pride in the count, which allows him to maintain his world view and his way-of-life. The count never ceases to be a gentlemen, even under house arrest.
“Manners are not like bonbons, Nina. You may not choose the ones that suit you best; and you certainly cannot put the half-bitten ones back in the box. . . .”
Through his hotel window the count sees his beloved Russia change into something unrecognizable to his eyes. He discusses philosophy and politics with the guests and staff of the Metropol and we, the readers, get a rare glance into how the aristocrats (at least those that survived) saw the Russian revolution. Despite what one might thing, Rostov did not seem entirely against the revolution, although he was not a firm supporter, but he did have philosophical arguments about many of the changes it brought in.
One particularly humorous disagreement he had about “new Russia” was brought on by the belief in Soviet Russia that all must be equal. One night while dining he ordered a bottle of wine that he thought would be especially good with his meal. The Maitre d’ then informed him that he could not choose different types of wine based off name, but he could only choose white or red. Outraged that he wasn’t getting the wine he asked for (his aristocracy never really wore off) he demanded to see the cellar. There he found, to his disgust, that all the labels had been taken off of the wine, making all the wine equal, and therefore could only be served as white or red. The count was not amused.
“A bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place; a poetic expression of individuality itself.”
I cannot praise Towles enough for his writing in this book. His characters and setting are phenomenal; everything he describes is precise, accurate, and said with importance. There never seems to be a bit of information out of place and every scene is built to play a larger role.
This book has humor, philosophy, politics, love, romance, adventure, suspense, and lots of informations about good food and wine. Out of all the books I have read this year, this one ranks the highest. Not only does it fully capture the culture and ideals of a time period, but it brings in everlasting themes that all humanity can relate to.
“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.”
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