Author: Amor Towles, Copyright 2016, published by Viking/Penguin Random House LLC, NY
Review by: Bruce Allen, honorary consul of the Principality of Liechtenstein in Georgia
Every book has two great hemispheres—the story and the telling of the story. The former is full of facts, details, places, and people; but it is in the telling of the story where the art resides, where the use of language sets the atmosphere and, siren-like, pulls the mesmerized reader ever forward to the next page.
In Amor Towles’ new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, we find the protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, caught in the Bolshevik changes of 1922. At the age of 30 he is declared a Former Person and placed under permanent house arrest in the grand hotel Metropol. He is forced to relinquish his titles, his suites and the antiques that his family had enjoyed for generations and is moved to the attic with only meager furnishings. The book follows his life in the Metropol until 1954. Despite his dire situation, he flourishes through the use of his wits, his breeding and his dedication to others, both those living in the hotel and those who are just passing through. The story is fascinating and in large part captures the psychological turmoil of the early Cold War period in the Soviet Union. It is a story about the true richness of the human spirit during trying times.
However, for me this amazing story pales in comparison to the telling of the story. Towles’ use of language is immediately captivating. His sentences flow like warm honey over a freshly baked biscuit. You simply cannot stop consuming his verbal art. Towles is the consummate wordsmith. His artistic and sophisticated telling of the story verges on epic poetry, and through his words the reader is transposed into the complex and sophisticated world of Count Rostov, a Former Person. The reader witnesses firsthand the events at the Metropol, and as such this novel ends too soon, leaving the reader on the dirt road of history wondering what comes next.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a wonderful novel, both in the story and its telling. The reading of it, like the lives it recounts, will fly by, and you will be spiritually enriched by having experienced it.