Book: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Reviewed by: Alexandra Holland, associate in the Atlanta law office of Fragomen Worldwide
I love historical fiction, especially those stories which transport me to a different time, country and culture. With A Gentleman in Moscow, author Amor Towles guides his readers through three decades of Bolshevik rule in post-revolution Russia. The politics of that era, however, serve merely as background for what is the undeniably charming tale of the life of aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who in the opening pages of the novel confesses to a political crime and is handed a life sentence of house arrest at the grand Metropol Hotel, the social nucleus for Moscow’s rich, famous, and powerful.
Towles’ mastery of character development and imagery shine throughout the book, and I was quickly enamored with the Count and his captivating gentility and authenticity. In his early days of imprisonment, Rostov is involuntarily divested of his signature mustache; and this fortuitous loss leads to an unlikely friendship with a precocious young girl which ultimately changes the course of his life.
In time, he assumes the position of Head Waiter in the Metropol’s elegant Boyarsky restaurant and finds in this role not only a usefulness for his unsurpassed knowledge of wine pairings and seating arrangements, but also much needed companionship with the maître d’ and chef.
The novel details with great humor, warmth and introspection the array of persons and events Rostov encounters within the Metropol throughout the years, contrasting his life within the confines of luxury with that of his best friend Mishka, who periodically brings news of the Russia which lies outside the hotel.
It is this contrast which evidences that, in fact, Count Rostov was quite fortunate to be imprisoned within the Metropol. Indeed, the theme which has stayed with me long after completing the novel is that which the Count articulates as he reflects upon his 60 years.
Having been surrounded by a life of aristocratic convenience in his early days prior to the arrest, Count Rostov finds in the end, rather, “it is the inconveniences [in life] which have meant the most.”
The Count serves as a model of adaptability and receptiveness who finds purpose, meaning and joy in a life very different from that which he once intended. Despite the book’s satisfying conclusion, you’ll feel a touch of loss in the end when you must bid farewell to Count Rostov and the colorful cast of characters that make A Gentleman in Moscow such a delightful and insightful read.
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