Special thanks to NetGalley and Viking Publishing for sending me an advanced galley of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Y’all, this book couldn’t have come across my doorstep at a better time. Just as I was researching for my trip to Eastern Europe and immersing myself in the history of post-World War I socialism and communism, I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Amor Towles’ new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. And guess what this tome’s plot is about? Why, the Bolsheviks and the house arrest of former aristocrats in post-WWI Russia!
I was sold merely by the title, but did my infatuation continue throughout the story?…
Photo courtesy Intrepid Travel
What’s it All About?
The story opens with the end of aristocratic Russia. Count Alexander Rostov, a professional gentleman, poet, and resident of the glittering Metropol Hotel, has been subjugated to house arrest by the Soviets in response to an “incendiary” poem Rostov wrote. Most of his possessions are claimed in the name of Russia, and he is relegated to a small dusty room hidden in the bowels of the hotel. Rather than wallow in self-pity and depression, Rostov makes light of his fate and embarks on an adventure of a more interior nature.
Over a thirty year time span, accompanied by his 9-year-old accomplice, Nina, Rostov explores the world of his beloved hotel and observes the changes Russia undergoes as the Soviet Union comes to fruition.
Amor Towles is already well known for his sleeper hit Rules of Civilty, a historical novel set in 1930’s NYC, and he knows how to cater to his audience. This novel is all about style and panache, so I was immediately charmed by Rostov and the cast of hotel characters scattered throughout the restaurant, barber shos, and cafe. Most importantly, I adored Nina, the precocious and half-neglected child who takes a curious interest in Rostov and his new social stature.
The story itself felt like a reimagining of The Grand Budapest Hotel or The Elegance of the Hedgehog – both set in hotels, showing peeks of its many residents’ lives and adding perspective to the protagonist’s own story. House arrests were common in this time period, particularly in Russia, and the story (though fiction) still gave me insight into the cultural tensions of this time frame during Russia’s transition into socialism. Contrasting the dying aristocratic use of “Your Highness” and social decorum of gentlemen with the legalistic, analytic attitudes of the Bolsheviks was riveting reading, especially when narrated by the lively Count Rostov.
Another interesting aspect of this story was the timeline- Towles spaced each chapter in increasing gaps of time (chapter one and two were one day apart, chapter three two days, chapter four five days, chapter five ten days, etc etc) for the first half of the novel, and then decreased the gaps in reverse order for the second half, adding a fun mathematical element to the storyline. In total, the story spans thirty years.
Final Verdit: Slay or Nay?
I flew through this book, and loved every minute of it. Emotionally fulfilling, sprinkled with humor and gravitas, packed full of wit and beauty..I can’t speak highly enough of this work.