Book: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Review by: Jim Reed, President, YKK Corp. of America
When I picked up A Gentleman in Moscow at a friend’s recommendation, I thought I remembered him saying it was a spy novel. After two chapters, I remember thinking, “This guy is a terrible spy and this is not a very good spy novel.”
Mercifully, it is not a spy novel, and its central character is anything but a spy. Of all the books I read this year, this was the most enchanting, offering a wonderfully entertaining story that is equally wonderfully written.
A Gentleman in Moscow provides the perfect remedy for anyone who is overwrought, over-busy, and over-stretched (like me). The story reminded me to slow down and enjoy the bounty life received every day, like the smell of a well-made cup of coffee. It also showed that politeness, respect and good manners are powerful tools in navigating an uncertain life.
Mr. Towles’ latest novel centers on Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1922 is in the prime of life. Having (seemingly) inexplicably chosen to return to Mother Russia from France in the midst of the Bolshevik Revolution, he is arrested, tried and declared an undesirable aristocrat. He is sentenced to “house” arrest in his favorite hotel, The Metropol.
Count Rostov is evicted from his customary suite and is instead banished to the attic. Being royal, he has never worked a day in his life. For Count Rostov, being a gentleman is a full-time occupation. The reader is immediately transported into the universe Towles creates for us within the Metropol, delighting in how the Count touches the world, and how the world touches him, without him leaving the property.
The decades roll by like the countryside out the window of a train as the author spins a storyline that never falls, and provides dialogue that always delivers just the right balance of pathos, humor and wit. As the Count continues to practice the art of gentlemanly manners, the storms of history blow around him.
Towles has an amazing ability to make the Count both foolishly naïve and immensely wise at the same time – a vodka-based cocktail with equal parts Winnie the Pooh, everyman and Prince Andrei. If you are like me, you know you are reading a great book when you lose yourself within it, and when you realize it is coming to an end, you read more slowly to delay its ending. This is one of those books.
Read previous Global Atlanta reviews of A Gentleman in Moscow:
Books 2017: The Artful Story of a Gentleman in Moscow, by immigration attorney Alexandra Holland
Books 2016: The Blessings of Moscow’s Aristocratic ‘Prison’, by Liechtenstein Honorary Consul Bruce Allen
Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2010. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.