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

by Amor Towles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,2663171,872 (4.42)1 / 524
"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..."--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 314 (next | show all)
Such a charming book!

I was completely caught up in everything about it. I fell right into the Count's reasons for his house arrest (oh, comrade, you don't know how lucky you are that is all you got,) to how this ex-aristocrat rolls with the punches so easily, so charmingly, like a true gentleman. It was so important that he WAS a true gentleman, too. It made all the difference in the world. He was a nice guy, very friendly, and he genuinely liked people. And he was observant. His little world, this hotel, had everything he needed to live, including new people to talk to all the time. He was even approached to be a spy, but you know what they say about true gentlemen. :)

Maybe a bit more gorgeous, at least to me, was the grand historical sweep of Russia, including the sly commentary, from after the revolution, through Stalin's period, and into Khrushchev's time.

This novel is a serious delight. It's not often we get to have an interesting and sometimes exciting adventure about a genuinely admirable guy without it being boring, and this was never boring. :) The world was perfectly good enough to play a sufficiently capricious and nasty antagonist.

( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
I read this book at a strange time in world history as every country struggles with covid-19, a deadly virus that has resulted in major shutdowns of cities and self isolation in their homes for millions of people. I am one of those confined to home and this book seems to me to speak to our times in ways that he author could never have imagined when it was published in 2016.
Count Alexander Rostov is a Russian aristocrat living in Moscow in 1922. He has lost his country estate to the Bolsheviks and now lives in a suite in the fashionable Metropol hotel . Interrogated by a tribunal to determine his sympathies he is sentenced to a form of house arrest- confinement in the hotel, in an attic room.
The remainder of the book is concerned with Rostov’s efforts to survive this punishment and to somehow make a life for himself. He has the gift of making friends easily and translates from guest into employee when he becomes Maitre d of the hotel’s exclusive restaurant, forming deep attachments to other members of the staff. Other relationships are also formed so that he becomes the centre of an alternative family.
Amor Towles uses the confined existence of his hero to show what is possible for humanity in circumstances that could crush one. Rostov does not just survive; he experiences life in new and stimulating ways. At his lowest moments something always saves him, acts of friendship, or links with his past life in unexpected ways. He finds ways to live well, and through the presence of two children in his life at different times he learns about his capacity for love.
The novel is also written beautifully, Towles elegant prose shot through with humour and warmth. The point of view is always from the inside of the hotel until very near the end of the book and so the progress of life in Soviet Russia is seen obliquely. There are interesting gaps in continuity; sometimes only a year or so of Rostov’s life passes between chapters, at other times several years. As an example the war years are skipped altogether, the narrative at one point ending in 1938 and picking up again 1n 1946. This time dislocation does demonstrate just how restrictive the Count’s existence is, making it all the more remarkable that he manages to have a full life in circumstances that could have driven him to madness.
  Maura49 | May 20, 2020 |
This was an especially interesting book to read during self-isolation because of the Covid-19 pandemic: the protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, is not allowed to step outside his home. He is given a life sentence of house arrest: he will be killed if he ever leaves the confines of the Metropol Hotel. He is stripped of most of his possessions and removed from his luxury suite to a garret room measuring 100 square feet. The Count understands that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” and so sets out to make his whole world out of the hotel and the people in it.

The novel spans 32 years, from 1922 to 1954. There are major events in Russian history during this time, but they remain in the background. The focus is on how the changes in the world outside affect the Count’s life: “History is the business of identifying momentous events from the comfort of a high-back chair.” Often the turbulence of history is reflected in the food served in the hotel restaurant where the Count eats and eventually becomes the head waiter: the chef‘s saltimbocca is “fashioned from necessity. In place of a cutlet of veal, Emile had pounded flat a breast of chicken. In place of prosciutto de Parma, he had shaved a Ukrainian ham. And in place of sage . . . nettle.” It takes the Count and two friends three years to find all 15 ingredients needed to make bouillabaisse. And the Count cannot get the wine he wants because the government has mandated that all bottles be stripped of labels so only red and white wine can be sold with every bottle at a single price: “’the existence of a wine list runs counter to the ideals of the Revolution. . . . it is a monument to the privilege of the nobility, the effeteness of the intelligentsia, and the predatory pricing of speculators.’”

Though the Count cannot leave the hotel, he reads the newspaper to learn about events. Because the hotel is across from the Kremlin, those responsible for events (e.g. Khrushchev) inevitably find their way to the hotel where the Count observes them and makes astute conclusions. The Count also befriends many people. His best friends within the hotel are the chef, the maître d’, a seamstress, and a precocious 9-year-old girl, but he also becomes friends with an American general’s aide-de-camp, a beautiful Russian actress, and an officer of the Communist Party who is “’charged with keeping track of certain men of interest.’” So though his world may seem small, it really isn’t.

There are wonderful touches of humour. When a waiter recommends an inappropriate wine to accompany a Latvian stew, the Count muses, “Now there was a wine that would clash with the stew as Achilles clashed with Hector. It would slay the dish with a blow to the dead and drag it behind its chariot until it tested the fortitude of every man in Troy.” When unable to sleep, the Count doesn’t resort to the remedy of counting sheep because he prefers “to have his lamb encrusted with herbs and served with a red wine reduction.” An immoderate young man keeps refilling his glass with wine and has extra helpings of a beef roast so eventually he returns “his supper to the pasture from whence it came.”

The Count is a Renaissance man. He is a gourmand and an oenophile. He is knowledgeable of the literature of several languages. He tutors a Communist official on French, English and American culture. He is an intelligent, witty conversationalist and an expert on etiquette. All of this should make him insufferably annoying, but he isn’t. He does not consider himself superior to others; he treats others with kindness and respect, though he has little patience for those who have not earned their positions through skill and hard work. He is not bitter, but accepts his sentence with grace and dignity, and remains true to his principles. He is unfailingly composed, refined, and polite – a true gentle man and gentleman.

The diction is formal and sophisticated, language appropriate to an erudite protagonist. The novel is elegant and charming, again like the protagonist. Reading the book is what I imagine a conversation with the Count would be like; I came away having learned much after having spent a most pleasant time which I would love to repeat.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | May 17, 2020 |
Count Alexander Rostov is lucky to be alive, one might think. When he appears before a Bolshevik tribunal in 1922, he might be sent up against the wall. Instead, he is sentenced to house arrest at his place of residence for the past four years: the Hotel Metropol. For the rest of his life, the premises of that luxury hotel will be the bounds of his existence; its staff and patrons, his entire world. Will that life be long, or short? Will he chafe at the restrictions, or cheerfully make the best of things? And how will he fill his time?

Ah, this book is such a delight! The characters, the setting... I just loved it. Towles captures something essentially Russian in his writing, without being lugubrious or morose. This is definitely one of my best reads of the year so far. I listened to the audiobook, which was a good fit. Highly recommended. ( )
  foggidawn | May 4, 2020 |
Tears of gratitude still running down my face. A wonderful read: tender, funny & surprising. And at its big-heart, the Count. Towles has created the perfect gentleman, so bright, charming, patient & proud, living under house-arrest in the attractive confines of Moscow’s Metropol Hotel.

Such an original story, quirky, life-affirming, and deeply moving. ( )
  LARA335 | May 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 314 (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
added by kthomp25 | editBooklist
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Towles, AmorAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Höbel, SusanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Nicholas GuyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, RodneyPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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