“Alexander Ilyich Rostov, taking into full account your own testimony, we can only assume that the clear-eyed spirit who wrote the poem Where Is It Now? has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class–and now poses a threat to the very ideals he once espoused. On that basis, our inclination would be to have you taken from this chamber and put against the wall. But there are those within the senior ranks of the Party who count you among the heroes of the prerevolutionary cause. Thus, it is the opinion of this committee that you should be returned to that hotel of which you are so fond. But make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.” Amor Towles, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW
He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is a novel I’ve approached and retreated from several times since its release years ago because I had to be in the right frame of mind (not writing my own first draft), free from a certain measure of distraction (not around my children), and finished reading the pile of research books on my desk. These circumstances of perfection were achieved last week, on my 20th anniversary getaway with my husband, and afforded the book the level of attention I sensed it deserved. The verdict: I loved it so much, it has now dethroned A. S. Byatt’s POSSESSION as my favorite novel by a contemporary author.
Count Alexander Rostov is a rare gem: a man of considerable intelligence, charm and absurdity, combined with the most endearing quality of all: a sense of humor about one’s self and one’s circumstances. Sentencing him to house (hotel) arrest just before his thirty-third birthday, the system that hopes to confine him to a cage ends up opening newer and deeper interior worlds and lives to which he would have had no such access had he been allowed to continue as an aristocrat.
The Count–and the reader–begin amid claustrophobic circumstances that unfold, over time, like the opening of a peacock’s tail. Like a fine cocktail, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW must be savored. The descriptions of food and drink in the novel are particularly enticing, revealing not only character but providing an absorbing sensory experience. From the snip of a pair of scissors, to the tearing of the seat of his pants, to a thimble game of hide and seek, a pageantry of friendships, rivalries, love, heartbreak, and joy play out in the small world of the Metropol.
For a man who has been taught from a young age that if he does not master his own circumstances he will be mastered by them, the Count has to learn the lesson over and over, and often in surprising and delightful ways. In the story, it is mutability–the change we face from the passage of time–that the reader will find most relatable. The truths revealed through the characters that come and go, and come and go again, in the Count’s life are a reflection of all our lives.
I did not expect to be as moved as I was by the book; that is, I did not expect to sob for the last fifty pages (my husband teasing me while I used a beach towel to blot my eyes), nor did I expect such heights of beauty and redemption. When the reader closes the last page, she’ll need to fight the urge to stand, clap, and shout ‘Bravo!”
I struggle to find a good comparison for this novel in my recommendation. The best I can do is to say that if you enjoy a combination of Downton Abbey and Dostoyevsky, you will love A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. I give it my highest recommendation, and it is the best novel I’ve read in years.