Every now and again along comes an outstanding novel that hits every aspect of what a great book should be. A Gentleman in Moscow is epic in its ambition, enthralling in its storytelling, entertaining in its humour and eloquent in its prose. The story is set amongst the chaotic birth of communist Russia, yet celebrates the dominion of the individual. Amor Towles opens the novel on 21 June 1922, with the Count being tried in front of the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for being part of the leisure class, corrupt and a threat to the new communist ideology.
“Prosecutor Vyshinsky: State your name.
Rostov: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.
Vyshinsky: You may have your titles; they are of no use to anyone else. But for the record, are you not Alexander Rostov, born in St. Petersberg, 24 October 1889?
Rostov: I am he.
Vyshinsky: Before we begin, I must say, I do not think that I have ever seen a jacket festooned with so many buttons.
Rostov: Thank you.
Vyshinsky: It was not meant as a compliment.
Rostov: In that case, I demand satisfaction on the field of honour.
Secretary Ignatov: Silence in the gallery.”
Metropol Hotel in Moscow
The Count is found guilty but is saved from execution because he wrote a poem supporting the pre-revolutionary movement. Sentenced to indefinite house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, he will stay there until 1954. This opening scene illustrates many of the treats awaiting us in the novel – the Count at odds with the ruling party, his adherence to a gentleman’s behaviour, his courage, and the humour with which he dispatches commentary.
Immediately on his house arrest, Rostov is moved from his luxurious suite in the Metropol to the attic, and a small room that requires him to make sacrifices of his belongings. Sacrifices in terms of possessions, liberty, social standing and relationships. The character of the Count is adored as he accepts all these challenges with resolve, integrity, humour and the dignity becoming of a gentleman.
The talented Amor Towles weaved many aspects into the novel to add incredible depth, with references to Greek and Roman legends including Helen of Troy, and more modern associations with ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’. The revolving front door of the hotel is an interface between the tumultuous changes and harsh living conditions occurring in Russia under the Stalin era, and the opulence of the hotel, as it resolutely maintains its luxury status.
Rostov makes very close friends with some colleagues but notably Nina, who as a nine-year-old girl shows the Count how to reverse the closing walls of the hotel and see numerous adventures in hidden corridors and rooms. Another little girl, Sofia, is introduced into the story who steals the Count’s heart and the connection they have is special beyond description. There are also threats and spies, only too willing to denounce other colleagues, so care is paramount. The character developed for Count Alexander Rostov is surely one never to be forgotten and his adventures, over thirty-two years within the Metropol Hotel, flowed with a constant fascination that remained enthralling from beginning to end – and what an end.
I was delighted to read this amazing work from Amor Towles, delighted to discover my great friend Ceecee hadn’t read it either and ecstatic that she wanted to read this with me. For a book that I have rounded down to 5-stars I can only say, it is highly recommended!!