Book review – Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles

It was said clearly and loudly on June 21, 1922 – if he ever walked through the door of Metropol Hotel in Moscow, he would be shot without warning. Count Alexander Rostov was sentenced to life imprisonment in the hotel’s premises.

So we were perfectly clear already from the first few pages of this book. It is clear to us, too, that we do not know what Count Rostov has done wrong that he deserved such a verdict. Also it is clear that his performance has something irresistible – sort of refinement of speech, sharpness of mind and subtly mocking authority – which is why we cannot restrain sympathy for this man, no matter that we meet him as recipients of severe punishment; a man who did something unforgivable…

And what is that Count Rostov did wrong? He was born, apparently, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Born and raised as a member of the Russian nobility, he enjoyed all the wealth and splendor of Emperor Russia before the turbulent period of revolution after the First World War forever changed the course not only of Russian but also of world history.

The Roman family was executed in the summer of 1918; anyone who was not a peasant or soldier did not do well. Count Rostov is, as we meet him, for four years now a Metropol hotel tenant. His family’s property no longer exists; neither the members of his family are any more among the living.

He is only 33 years old, and the world he knew is gone forever; replaced by a new one that is openly aggressive and hostile to him, one in which there is no room for people as he is.

He used to walk in family orchards, but today he can only dream of walking on a grassy surface. He formerly owned cabinets full of gorgeous outfits, and now he has left with just a couple of old, expensive, tailor-made suits. Once he went to parties and balls, and now he will grow old wandering the same corridors of the hotel, eating always the same food in always the same hotel restaurant, which are prepared always the same people.

As Count Rostov gets acquainted with the new, much smaller contours of his future life, we, readers are slowly getting to know the gentleman, a real life gentleman. Some of us, I would dare say, for the first and the last time.

I do not exaggerate, really. I was recently at a doctors and when I left the office, a nice man got up, he asked me which my coat was, pitched it in front of me, waiting to pull myself together and suck arms into the sleeves.

I thanked him and asked, “Can I now start hyperventilating from disbelief and then fall into oblivion?” It was funny to him. “There are still gentleman in this world, ma’am.”

Perhaps there are others who know how to surrender a chair, open or hold the door, help the woman with her coat. But, honestly, an ordinary Christian Gray can do those things.

Count Rostov is something completely different, a being that we can no longer meet today. Indeed, it was not possible to meet even then when the “ordinary” people took power over Russia – so clear from the book, I think the author wanted the reader to observe these differences.

The true gentleman is one so fascinating persona that through nearly five hundred pages of the book, Count Rostov dose not tire us for a moment.

Because, you know, he alone is not bored at all, thanks in particular to a nine-year-old Nina who came to his table during a meal and without hesitation (without apology and without representation) asked where his mustache were? And is it true that he is “that Count”? And did he know some princesses?

If Count Rostov thought that after four years of his stay at the Metropol Hotel, he knows every corner of his hotel, Nina will soon show that the hotel hides many other amazing places.

Fortunately for the count, Metropol Hotel also has a tailor; because after almost every adventure with his new friend, the Count expensive pants ripped through the ass.

Do you know how Pieter Steinz in his book, “Lezen met ALS” said that anyone who cannot count on the length of life must do all that life explores “in width” at the time it has left? Count Alexander Rostov has a similar task, only a different limit: he has the time, but it seems to be carried out in one and the same place. How then can a gentleman explore the breadth of his life if he knows that his entire physical movement will flow within the premises of a single building?

Clearly, monotony is certainly broken by interesting hotel guests – they bring with them incredible stories from the outside world, memories that Rostov can share, problems with which Rostov can help.,

There are also children who have to be raised, friends who have to be encouraged, the enemies who have to be known, the arrogant cats who he needs to learn how to be friends with the beautiful women who throw their clothes out of the hotel windows because of the count- a new, younger generation who have so much to learn from a former nobleman.

By reading the book, we remind ourselves that there are people who are dignitiously trained in the art of living within those circumstances given to them – how to distinguish what we can change in life and what we have to accept; how to choose our battles and how to deal with each outcome with dignity – these are all the skills that we really could learn from the count. Like, say, how to enjoy the deceit with a gentle measure. Sex and alcohol included.

Despite being alone, despite being left without anything, Count Rostov recognizes unconventional opportunities to nevertheless become a parent, close friend, lover, counselor and mentor.

One of the favorite, most intuitive messages of this book is that you can have a family in many ways; that someone can be a wonderful, patient, and devoted parent to a child with no biological connection.

Following the Count through his transformation, we observe (through the window of the hotel) how the world is changing outside. So the life of this interesting man reminds me of my own; so many events I do not participate in, so much of what I miss, so much that is happening without me, so much is indifferent to my existence – yet it does not mean that my life, here and now, cannot be perfectly fulfilled. Ultimately, if we are to believe what the Count quietly observes, in fact little has really changed – human nature is something that every shadow gives so much predictability.

It’s hard to talk about this book, it’s hard to see how it satisfies every reader’s hedonistic sense. I am aware that the figure of Count Alexander Rostov is a very romantic (although not idealized) representation of a member of a social class that no longer exists but he carries with it such a wonderful, nostalgic and clever one that I am sure anyone who gets to know him will close the book as a better person.

I’m sure you will want to try out all the combinations of wines and food mentioned by the count, I’m sure you will Google airline tickets to Moscow and photos of the hotel Metropol (go ahead, you will enjoy, at least in photographs, if not the prices for the tickets and accommodation).

I’m sure I’ll be falling head over heels for the Count; moreover, I deeply hope you will – it can only be used by us if the criteria for choosing a partner match us with such characters.

And I’m sure Amor Towles will offer you an end you did not expect …

Books like this make me happy and optimistic; it is clear to me that literature today can be elegant and gorgeous, instructive and entertaining, that it does not have to be dry in order to convey an important message, a riddle, to tell an important, contemporary story.

On the contrary, literature today must not be such; Readers will not allow, readers have high standards and readers in return for their time are looking for a lot in authors.

Fortunately, here, one can beautifully write about important and serious topics, in a way that the reader will not, by imparting to follow the text, put him in danger of a brain aneurism.

Reader today does not want for the author to give out a lesson; he wants the author to treat his as a partner in discovering a new world, wants the author to infected him with his enthusiasm according to the subject he describes and wants the author to show that he is writing the book and keeping in mind his writing, has preconceived respect for the reader’s time that will irreversibly be invested in his book.

Keeping this in mind, without any persuasion and without any doubts, I declare the book “A Gentleman in Moscow” the best book I have read in a long time.

12 thoughts on “Book review – Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles”

  1. Pieter Steinz didn’t wrote this quote in Made in Europe but in Lezen met ALS. (Citanje na odlasku. Knjizevnost kao zivotna potreba)


  2. This sounds like such an interesting read. I’m really trying to read a variety of genres this year, and I think this one will be a good start!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read this book and love it! I loved how Alexander made friends with so many people that he normally would not have in his normal place is society, like the girl and the man with the bees. A great read.

    Liked by 1 person

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