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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
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A Gentleman in Moscow (2016)

by Amor Towles

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2,7952333,091 (4.45)1 / 444
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A Gentleman in Moscow works on many different levels.

It is the story of “Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt,” who had the misfortune of being a member of the upper class following the Bolshevik (later called Communist Party) revolution of 1917. He probably would have been executed except for a poem attributed to him written prior to the “failed revolt of 1905.” This literary “call to action” saves him from the firing squad. Instead he is sentenced to house arrest. However, Rostov's home is in the Metropol, a first class hotel in Moscow. There is a massive lobby with restaurants, a seamstress, and a barber. There are also people who come and go, along with many people who stay for a long time. Rostov finds he is capable of adapting to his new situation and making friends. Here's a quote:

“It is a well-known fact that of all the species on earth Homo sapiens is among the most adaptable. Settle a tribe of them in a desert and they will wrap themselves in cotton, sleep in tents, and travel on the backs of camels; settle them in the Arctic and they will wrap themselves in sealskin, sleep in igloos, and travel by dog-drawn sled. And if you settle them in a Soviet climate? They will learn to make friendly conversation with strangers while waiting in line; they will learn to neatly stack their clothing in their half of the bureau drawer; and they will learn to draw imaginary buildings in their sketchbooks”

So on the first level this is about a man adjusting to what life has sent his way and of that man observing the changes happening to his country from a place of seclusion. Here are some of the other ways this novel works.

1. It is the story of a man who treats people well, when they deserve it, and has those small niceties returned from friends when he needs help. I suppose this is a story of a man's Karma, but all within a single lifetime.
2. It is the story of what a man gains when he befriends a young girl and, years later, raises another. He explains it like this: “To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka – and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me the most.”
3. It is the story of a man whose seclusion helps him observe and understand life. These observations occur in the novel as very quotable lines such as: “For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

There are a number of coincidences in the plot and an ending I had to research in order to understand, but the strength of the character, Rostov, the subject matter of post revolution Soviet Union, and the quality of the writing make this a wonderful book and an easy novel to recommend.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross. ( )
  SteveLindahl | Feb 11, 2019 |
It is prominently displayed and heaped high on the tables at Barnes & Noble. This copy was sent, thoughtfully inscribed, as a gift from Mat Parke, who knows my interest in both Sovietology and swank hotels. Halfway through I concluded that the Law of Inverse Contrarianism was at work (last seen vouching for the musical Hamilton): If most people say something is really good, it’s probably pretty good.

It is set almost entirely in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, where Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced to house arrest by the Bolsheviks. There are worse houses in which to be house-arrested.

(When I was in Moscow in 2003 I spent a fair amount of time in the lobby of the Metropol watching CNN International, looking for news of my brother’s infantry unit that had just invaded Iraq. I was staying with my student group at the rather less glitzy Hotel Moskva on the other side of Teatralnaya Square, but here’s the thing about fancy hotel lobbies: They don’t care which hotel you sleep at. Incidentally, my father and my uncle also stayed at the Moskva during a trip to the USSR in 1986. Shortly after my stay it was demolished and replaced with a Four Seasons, that, oddly, is just as ugly as the one it succeeded.)

Mat, who was enchanted by this book enough to send it to me, reports that he then circled back to Towles’ first novel, The Rules of Civility, and that he was not so charmed by that one, so I won’t bother. But this one is hugely entertaining, and frequently moving.
  k6gst | Feb 8, 2019 |
Loved it! The writing is so vivid -- without being overly wordy -- that I feel as if I "watched" this story as well as read it. It tells the story of Alexander, deemed a "Former Person" for alleged disloyalty to Soviet ideology and sentenced to house arrest. He spends the next several decades living in an attic room in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Here we see how he finds meaning and purpose in his restrained life. Highly recommended....as is Mr. Towles' previous book, Rules of Civility. I'm eagerly awaiting a third novel! ( )
  LynnB | Jan 30, 2019 |
Exceptional storytelling. Thoroughly enjoyed this story as it moved through Moscow history from the 1920 to the 1950's. ( )
  tjsween | Jan 27, 2019 |
This story takes place over several decades in communist Russia, beginning just after the revolution. It is the story of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov who meets many people while he is forced to live in a hotel under house arrest. Two of the most notable people he meets are Nina and Sofia, young girls who change the count's life. The story also tells of the Count's many friendships. ( )
  rmarcin | Jan 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
Booklist
July 1, 2016
In his remarkable first novel, the best-selling Rules of Civility (2011), Towles etched 1930s New York in crystalline relief. Though set a world away in Moscow over the course of three decades, his latest polished literary foray into a bygone era is just as impressive. Sentenced as an incorrigible aristocrat in 1922 by the Bolsheviks to a life of house arrest in a grand Moscow hotel, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is spared the firing squad on the basis of a revolutionary poem he penned as an idealistic youth. Condemned, instead, to live his life confined to the indoor parameters of Metropol Hotel, he eschews bitterness in favor of committing himself to practicalities. As he carves out a new existence for himself in his shabby attic room and within the magnificent walls of the hotel-at-large, his conduct, his resolve, and his commitment to his home and to the hotel guests and staff together form a triumph of the human spirit. As Moscow undergoes vast political changes and countless social upheavals, Rostov remains, implacably and unceasingly, a gentleman. Towles presents an imaginative and unforgettable historical portrait.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2016 Booklist
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Epigraph
How well I remember

When it came as a visitor on foot
And dwelt a while amongst us
A melody in the semblance of a mountain cat.

Well, where is our purpose now?

Like so many questions
I answer this one
With the eye-averted peeling of a pear.

With a bow I bid goodnight
And pass through terrace doors
Into the simple splendors
Of another temperate spring;

But this much I know;

It is not lost among the autumn leaves on Peter's Square.
It is not among the ashes in the Athenaeum ash cans.
It is not inside the blue pagodas of your fine Chinoiserie.

It is not in Vronsky's saddlebags;
Not in Sonnet XXX, stanza one;
Not on twenty-seven red...

                                    Where Is It Now? (Lines 1-19)
                         Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov   1913
Dedication
For Stokley and Esme
First words
At half past six on the twenty-first of June 1922, when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool.
Quotations
Mindful of their surroundings, the three damsels would initially speak in the hushed voices of gentility; but swept away by the currents of their own emotions, their voices would inevitably rise, such that by 11:15, even the most discreet enjoyer of a pastry would have no choice but to eavesdrop on the thousand-layered complications of their hearts.
The crowded confusion of furniture gave the Count's little domain the look of a consignment shop in the Arbat.
Yes, some claimed Emile Zhukovsky was a curmudgeon and others called him abrupt. Some said he was a short man with a shorter temper.
It was a place where Russians cut from every cloth could come to linger over coffee, happen upon friends, stumble into arguments, or drift into dalliances—and where the lone diner seated under the great glass ceiling could indulge himself in admiration, indignation, suspicion, and laughter without getting up from his chair.
Tall and thin, with a narrow head and superior demeanor, he looked rather like a bishop that had been plucked from a chessboard.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670026190, Hardcover)

“The book moves briskly from one crisp scene to the next, and ultimately casts a spell as captivating as Rules of Civility, a book that inhales you into its seductively Gatsby-esque universe.” Town & Country

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

 
With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, “Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 01 May 2016 17:55:00 -0400)

""In all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight.this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility."--Kirkus Reviews (starred) From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility--a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted; as NPR commented, "Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change." 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"--… (more)

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