A Gentleman in Moscow
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has succumbed “irrevocably to the corruptions of his class,” according to The People’s commissariat for internal affairs in Moscow, 1922. Worse, he’s written a poem that may have been a call to arms during the Russian Revolution. In a blink, Alexander is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, where the trajectory of his privileged life of aristocracy and freedom takes a drastic turn. Having lived at the hotel for the past four years, he enjoyed his luxurious quarters as much as his freedom to travel. Freedom, however, is no longer his to relish. Any attempt to walk out the door will get him shot on sight. Relocated to a tiny, sparse room in the attic, Alexander must find a way to hold tight to his dignity and make peace with his new life --- a challenge far beyond any he has encountered.
With its splendidly literary style of writing, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW gently transports readers to another time and place, filling their senses with Alexander’s world and the host of charming characters who weave in and out of it.
"Eloquent writing delivers a host of delightful characters, wonderfully flawed and sincere, who further enrich this story of self-discovery, passion and relationships in their many complex forms."
No longer free to visit the ballet, the theater or the beloved apple orchard of his childhood, Alexander strives to make the most of his limited domain. His hours are filled, at first, with reading and meals, along with charming conversations as he begins to befriend the staff. But when eight-year-old Nina joins him for lunch in the hotel’s posh restaurant, Alexander’s life again takes an unexpected turn, one that will lead to a far more dramatic twist down the road.
Like Alexander, Nina and her father live at the hotel, albeit without Alexander’s restrictions. Since Nina is left on her own while daddy works, she is eager to befriend Alexander. Using Nina’s stolen key, the unlikely friends explore the secret passageways and locked rooms of the Metropol, and spy on everyone from celebrities to politicians to journalists. For Alexander, the unusual relationship becomes central to his existence. Nina is a delightful companion, and their spy adventures allow Alexander to keep a pulse on the ever-changing political and societal arena. But children grow up, and as Nina becomes involved in school, she has less time for adventures and spy games. Eventually, she moves out of the hotel.
Unlike his friendship with Nina, Alexander’s relationship with starlet Anna Urbanova is of the between-the-sheets variety. When first they meet, he is sure that this entitled celebrity is little more than fancy clothes and a plastic smile. But during the first of many trysts, he discovers that there is so much more to the lovely Anna.
Characters come and go as Alexander spends nearly three decades at the Metropol, but few warm his heart like little Nina. When she returns years later with an urgent request, Alexander can’t help but grant it. That 15-minute meeting will be another defining point in his life --- one that will make all of the previous upheavals pale by comparison.
Amor Towles’ second novel (following his breakout debut, RULES OF CIVILITY) flows like a scenic river, always moving steadily around bends that gift readers with a new view and keep them wanting more. Eloquent writing delivers a host of delightful characters, wonderfully flawed and sincere, who further enrich this story of self-discovery, passion and relationships in their many complex forms. Abundant in history and culture as it is in plot and character development, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is a novel worth savoring rather than devouring.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on September 7, 2016