I almost titled this posting A DOSE OF RUSSIAN HISTORY SERVED HOT! A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, by Amor Towles, is masterful and epic. Amor Towles has created a brilliant novel stuffed with humor and peppered with absolutely delightful characters that will never be forgotten. In fact, Count Alexander Rostov will always be somewhere close to my heart.
This magnificent saga begins in Moscow, 1922. Count Rostov has been brought before the Bolshevik tribunal and charged with a crime. They say he is an “unrepentant aristocrat” and they sentence him to house arrest for the rest of his life. Holy cow. Really! Yes, really. He is not allowed outside of the Metropol Hotel where he resides. But, instead of allowing him to live in the posh rooms he’s presently ensconced in, he is marched up to the attic to live in a garrett of a room hardly large enough to hold a small single bed and a desk. So here is this man who has never worked a day in his life, with his life changed one hundred percent in the blink of an eye. How will he handle this change of events? Why, with dignity and sophistication, as he’s led his entire life.
This astonishing beginning totally got my attention. In that I had fallen deeply in love with Towle’s first novel, RULES OF CIVILITY, I pretty much suspected I would love this new novel as well. However, it is so totally unique and with such a different venue and perspective, it caught me off guard. Did I really care about Russian history? I sure do now.
A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, is somewhat of a modern Russian history lesson. But with interesting and fun characters tossed in to lead the way. Who would ever think an entire novel could take place inside of a hotel? But it works so beautifully. This is’t just any hotel. The Metropol Hotel sits smack dab in the center of the historic district of Moscow. It’s right across from the Kremlin, in Red Square. I love the map that Towles has included in the beginning of the novel. You could get a better idea about the Metropol by thinking it’s much like The Plaza in NYC, or the Ritz in Paris, or even Claridge’s in London. Yes, it’s that big and famous. In fact, the Metropol was the first hotel in Moscow to offer hot water, telephones, international cuisine, and American- style bars. So it was a big deal. You see, one did not need to leave the Metropol for anything.
The Count did not miss a beat. He continued getting his weekly trim at the barber shop in the hotel. He dined in the restaurants for all three meals. He sometimes enjoyed the bars. There was a card room. A florist. It was like a modern-day cruise ship in that everything was aboard.
Count Rostov managed to meet characters of both style and color. His closest friends were lay people who he came in contact with on a daily basis as they worked for the hotel. He also met some lovely ladies whom he became especially close to. But then a little girl touched his heart. And his life would forever change, slowly.
Russian history definitely would not be history without politics. But here Towles subtlety allows us glimpses and brings real historic personages into play. You simply do not feel Russian politics imposed on you. In fact, I found it a fascinating way to learn…
The escapades and antics of two little girls along with the wit and divine prose of Towles will have you smiling through many passages. And you will begin to wonder where this is all going, and why. As the Count slowly changes his perspective due to his circumstances you will begin to have a more astute understanding of the premise of this novel. As I neared the end I slowed my reading down in order to relish the amazing writing and enjoy the unfurling of the plot.
The ending of the novel is not to be rushed. Suddenly, everything begins to change. And you see where Towles is going with this. And it is perfect!
Amor Towles has become one of my favorite authors. He is capable of writing about almost anything. I hear his next novel is going to be about teen age boys in America in the 50″s. And I so look forward to it. Viking, the publisher of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW ( first printing of 200,000) has signed Towles for two more novels. Smart. We are so lucky he ditched finance and grabbed the pen!
Thanks Viking for the gorgeous finished hardcopy of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. You know I love it! All this for an honest review. Easy.