A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Here in the United States, it is sometimes difficult to imagine a life much different than what we have the privilege to live. When we are hungry, we go to the grocery store and can choose to buy whatever fresh fruits or vegetables, fresh meats, ice cream, processed chips, water in plastic bottles, etc., that we would like to have. When we need a piece of furniture, we can go to a store, try each piece in their inventory, pay, and walk out with that piece, ready to put where we would like it in our home. What we need can be acquired. What we want also can be, usually, if we have the means. But this is not the way the entire rest of the world works.
A few months ago, a new hardcover book came out on shelves called A Gentleman in Moscow. It is must-read fiction. The cover photograph is apt—a finely dressed man peering out a balcony door and window. What is he looking at?
In the case of A Gentleman in Moscow, the main character, Count Alexander Rostov, has been sentenced by the Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest for the remainder of his life to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. At the time of his sentence in 1922, he was in his thirties. His crime was that he had been born into the aristocracy. Would he be allowed to leave the hotel? No. Never.
With that setup the book begins.
I can say this now that I have finished it – never have I read a more interesting narrator. Never have I loved a main character as much. Never have I hoped more for a character than I have for Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow.
The narration flows by swiftly with a *wink, wink* playfulness to it. History of Moscow, Russia, Stalin, USSR, and Khrushchev run in and out of the pages as true events did actually happen within the doors of the Hotel Metropol. And Rostov? Well, he has one of the brightest outlooks in history. When he felt confined, he drank with the janitor on the rooftop of the hotel. When he needed adventure, there was always a certain child or two who would keep him on his toes, get him into mischief, and help raise more than their share of trouble within the hotel. And yet. This story, the characters, the writing – they all add up to make this one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliant.
Some favorite quotes from A Gentleman in Moscow
“By all accounts, you seem to have reconciled yourself to your situation.” … “As both a student of history and a man devoted to living in the present, I admit that I do not spend a lot of time imagining how things might otherwise have been. But I do like to think there is a difference between being resigned to a situation and reconciled to it.” –page 211
“Can you imagine the expression on Napoleon’s face when he was roused at two in the morning and stepped from his brand-new bedroom in the Kremlin only to find that they city he’d claimed just hours before had been set on fire by its citizens?” Mishka gave a quiet laugh. “Yes, the burning of Moscow was especially Russian, my friend. Of that there can be no doubt. Because it was not a discrete event; it was the form of an event. One example plucked from a history of thousands. For as a people, we Russians have proven unusually adept at destroying that which we have created.” –page 290
“He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity – a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.” – page 442
A Gentleman in Moscow is a book I savored, tried not to read to quickly so that its charm would not pass me by. It is a novel about enduring difficult circumstances and yet achieving the most unlikely success – still finding joy and contentment. To me, A Gentleman in Moscow is a reflection on all that we have been given, all that we do not have (which likely makes us appreciate what we do have that much more), and the pieces in life which are most important and meaningful.
At the end, I finished the final sentence with a satisfied smile. This book is a masterpiece.