Review: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

This is one of those books that I started to read, put aside, and then picked up much later and decided to give it a second chance. And it’s a good thing that I did.

This book tells the most improbable of stories. A tsarist aristocrat who is placed under house arrest in an elegant Moscow hotel in 1922 and stays there, for decades, forbidden to leave. While I normally love books set in Russia in the twentieth century, that was not actually the real appeal of this one. And I think I was actually put off by the first few pages, which purport to be the protocol of the court decision to allow Count Alexander Rostov to avoid jail. I thought they sounded wrong, and was unable to suspend disbelief.

But on second reading, that didn’t matter. Nothing about the book is meant to be real. The bloody twentieth century in Russia gets barely a mention. There is no violence to speak of. No one is dragged off by secret police in the middle of the night. Instead, the focus is the noble character of the Count and the friendships he forms while confined to the luxurious Metropol. And what wonderful friendships they are.

One cannot read the book and not be moved. I smiled (a lot), I sometimes felt sad, and I worried about what will happen to this character or that. I was engaged with this imaginary Moscow, which has little in common with the one that actually existed. A Gentleman in Moscow is above all a human story, gentle and warm and full of love. I highly recommend it.

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