A Gentleman in Moscow

Written by Amor Towles
Review by Lorraine Norwood

The “gentleman” of the title is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a charming Russian aristocrat who lives in a posh suite in Moscow’s grand Metropol Hotel. In 1922 a Bolshevik tribunal sentences him to house arrest for writing a poem they deem seditious, and he is banished to an attic room in the Metropol. If he steps outside the hotel he will be shot. Most of his personal effects and furniture are confiscated; however, in a revealing gesture, he manages to save all his books and a large, heavy Louis XVI desk left to him by his godfather. “A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the count, “a gentleman with a desk.”

For decades, as guests and staff come and go at the hotel, and as political turmoil swirls in the outside world, the once sophisticated Rostov adapts to his reduced circumstances, not with increasing bitterness, but with grace and humor. Though his physical world has shrunk, his emotional world expands. His friendships with waiters, cooks, a handyman, a precocious young girl, and visitors to the hotel enlarge his existence. The result is an extraordinary revelation for the reader – a literary novel that is intelligent, loving, witty, and elegant. Amor Towles, a master of narration, has written a contemporary novel which reads like a translation of a great Russian classic. He deftly brings to life the cultural milieu of three decades of Russian experience. Each word is carefully planned, each scene beautifully rendered.  A Gentleman in Moscow is surely one of the year’s best books and highly recommended.