My Grandfather, a voracious reader who averages about 5 books/week, declared this novel the best book he’s read in a year. To me, that was the ultimate rave review!
Written by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow chronicles the life of Russian Count Rostov who is sentenced to house arrest in his early 30s at the Metropol Hotel. The Metropol, where the count had previously been living, also happens to be the most luxurious hotel in Moscow, if not all of Russia. The hotel becomes an entire world for the Count, and despite an initial depression over his sentence, he begins to create a rich and varied life for himself within the hotel’s walls.
And what a life it is within those walls! The people who pass through and the staff who remain day after day all prove to be endless fodder for the Count, and many turn into genuine friends. Among my favorites was the harassed Chef Emile Ahukovsky, who wakes up every morning thinking the world is horrible and slowly changes his mind throughout the day; Arkady, the loyal Hotel desk captain; movie star Anna Urbanova; and the young Sofia, who wins the hearts of many at the hotel, most especially the Count himself.
Unfolding alongside the characters’ lives is the political turmoil of 20th century Russia. The Count is a “former person,” someone belonging to the pre-revolution aristocracy, and hated by the Bolsheviks. However, he is saved from a death sentence thanks to high-ranking friends within the regime. We see Bolsheviks, Stalinists, Kremlin operators, and Khrushchev pass through the Metropol. We hear “comrade” as the new term of address and see characters banished to Siberia. Nevertheless, the Count retains his optimism and unfailing ability to make the best out of any situation. He is impossible to root against.
I love Towles’ writing and the way he creates such an absorbing world filled with rich and entertaining characters. It was a feel-good read that also captures the most important elements of people’s lives: love, friendship and the meaning of home.
There were so many lines throughout this book that could be quoted, but I’ve chosen a select few listed below that I enjoyed the most!
“For if a room that exists under the governance of authority and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine.”
“For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they set into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother of pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness.”
“After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli.”
“To what end, he wondered, had the Divine created the stars in heaven to fill a man with feelings of inspiration one day and insignificance the second?”
“I’ll have you know, dear sister, that careless seating has torn asunder the best of marriages and led to the collapse of the longest-standing detentes.”
“Quite simply, the Count’s father had believed that while a man should attend closely to life, he should not attend too closely to the clock.”
“It is one of the intrinsic limitations of being young, my dear, that you can never tell when a grand adventure has just begun.”
“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”