Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Viking, 2016.  Hardcover, 448 pages.Review: Gentleman in Moscow

The czar has been overthrown for four years and communism is still new to Russia.  Amid this setting, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is set to experience a plethora of changes.  As the novel opens, Rostov is being tried for being an unrepentant aristocrat.  However, as he is believed to have penned a work in favor of the communist cause, he is spared from death and is placed under house arrest. The novel follows Rostov’s life confined to the Metropol Hotel, located just across the street from the Kremlin.  Readers will see how Rostov adapts to his new life and the circumstances that come about because of it.

Over the forty year span of the novel, Rostov proves to be adaptable.  Whether is is going from eating at the Metropol’s swankiest restaurant, the Boyarsky, to serving as its head waiter or going from a solitary figure to gaining new friends from all walks of life, Rostov succeeded.  Then the biggest change occurs when a trusted friend asked for a most desperate favor.  Will this favor alter his life?  If so, how? Throughout all of this, stories are related about Rostov’s past, as are newer ones featuring the ensemble cast of characters Rostov is proud to call his “family.”

I cannot say more about this novel’s plot without ruining the story.  However, I can say that A Gentleman in Moscow is intriguing.  Through the eyes of Rostov, readers will see the downfall of the aristocracy, the rise of communism, and the politicking that goes with both.  Readers will also see the longing Rostov has for what he can no longer experience, such as travel and excellent food, while also refashioning his life.  Because of the many events communist party officials hold at the Metropol, which never lost its world-class elegance, Rostov witnesses the changes in party management and leadership.  And through the decades the way the management at the hotel changes shows the bureaucratic nature of the Soviet state.  In all, this novel, with its elegant prose of eras past, is ambitious in its efforts to show how Russia transitioned from a bastion of aristocracy to become a hardcore communist nation.  Making matters more spectacular is that Towles succeeds with this herculean endeavor while ensuring each character also has his or her own unique personality and compelling backstory alongside.

Do you think you will read this novel?  If so, please share your thoughts.  If not, do you know another novel that shows what it is like to experience life in the Soviet state?  With the summary of this novel in mind, how might you have reacted to living under Soviet rule?

My review is based on an advanced reader copy from the publisher.  This title was released last week and I had hoped to have the review posted last Monday, but two multi-day cross-state trips in 10 days kept me from any book.

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