Author: Amor Towles
Review by: Judy Bobrow
Genre: Literary Fiction
A Remarkable Gentleman Indeed!
The saga of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, begins in 1922 as the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was being created from the vast territory of the former northern Eurasian empire, stretching from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean. Amidst all the chaos of this event, Count Alexander Ilvich Rostov returns to his former home in Russia after a self-exile following a duel that ended badly, to attend the funeral of his beloved sister. As a member of the aristocracy, he is seen by those newly in power as a danger to the Communist Party, and the new republic.
The count is placed under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow and during his decades-long stay in a closet-sized room on the isolated 6th floor of the hotel, carves out a new life for himself, putting to good use all the varied skills acquired as an aristocrat. And through the telling of his complex life and the lives of the people he comes in contact with at the Metropol, Amor Towles took me on an adventure in reading that had me both laughing and weeping and at the end, totally satisfied.
This book engages on two levels:
First, we get to know a man, Count Rostov, who is placed in what would be for most, an impossibly difficult situation. His former way of life no longer exists. He is isolated from his entire support group of friends and family. There is nothing of his old life that remains. But he is undaunted. We see him not adapting to these new circumstances, not making the most of them, not complaining, not sad, not disillusioned. What we see instead is a man so completely comfortable with himself, that he continues to live as he always has, even in his limited circumstances. He becomes both teacher and student, endearing himself and making himself useful to the hotel workers as well as guests of the hotel – those in the upper class who have survived the revolution to take on positions of responsibility and power.
Second, we get to experience parallel worlds – the life inside the walls of the Metropol Hotel, within the count’s small quarters, and in the larger world surrounding the hotel, and within the newly formed republic. We are guided through these worlds with the skill, emotional depth and sheer artistry of Amor Towels. JB
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