A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This grand, sweeping story takes place entirely inside the walls of a luxury hotel in 1920s-1950s Moscow, in lushly evocative writing from the author of Rules of Civility.

gentleman in moscow

Amor Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, won readers’ hearts with its strong sense of time and place, fully realized characters and richly evocative voice. A Gentleman in Moscow repeats the feat with those qualities and more.

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov (“recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt”) appears before a Bolshevik tribunal, accused of “succumbing irrevocably to the corruptions of his class.” He responds with quips, and is sentenced to house arrest in the luxury hotel where he has lived for the last four years. “Make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.”

This stylish and cultured protagonist has already lost his family and their estate. Now two armed guards move him from his suite into a monastic room of one hundred square feet. The bulk of his fine furniture, which will not fit in his new lodgings, becomes the property of the People. Remarkably good-natured, Rostov makes the best of his circumstances. He has all he needs in the Metropol: two restaurants, a barber, a seamstress and impeccably mannered staff who know him well. His worst enemy, perhaps, will be boredom–or a waiter who is particularly committed to the revolutionary cause. To brighten Rostov’s days, a fellow resident, “the young girl with the penchant for yellow,” befriends him. And then the hotel opens for him into a world as broad and rewarding as the one he wishes for his new friend–but ultimately as limiting as well.

The charming, complex Rostov is joined by colorful hotel employees (especially a talented chef and maître d’) and visitors, including a lovely actress, a dear friend from his youth and an assortment of Western journalists and businessmen. It is the charm of this expansive, lushly detailed novel that such a rich cast and such diverting and occasionally devastating events can populate the closed space of the Metropol, over a span of 32 years. A Gentleman in Moscow is filled with literary and cultural references–Chekhov, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Humphrey Bogart–and with tastes, smells, humor, love and loyalty. Towles indulges in sentimentality to just the right degree. Readers who enjoy a generous, absorbing story, vibrant characters and immersive time and place will fall in love with this saucy novel. And by the time A Gentleman in Moscow closes in 1954, those readers will be sorry to lose the new friend they’ve found in Rostov.

This review originally ran in the July 29, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.

Rating: 8 jackets hanging in the closet.

3 Responses

  1. I put it on hold at HPL. It hope it will fit in with the latest from Alan Furst. -Bob

    • Oooh, interesting! My dad is a fan of Furst, too. If you have any observations about that match-up, I’d love to hear about it! Thanks for stopping by, Bob.

  2. […] worlds I lost myself in, all fictional but realistic: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Change; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install (I love the name ‘Install’ for […]

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