Monday, June 3, 2019

"A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It’s that time again - book club! This month, we’re featuring A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Each month you can read my review and the opinions of my fellow book clubbers. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below.
Next month, we will be reading Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. Please join us on 1 July to discuss.

On 21 June 1922, Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.
Can a life without luxury be the richest of all?

Map of Moscow 1922 from the book (by Alex Coulter).

Book Video

At half past six on the twenty-first of June 1922, when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool. Drawing his shoulders back without breaking stride, the Count inhaled the air like one fresh from a swim. The sky was the very blue that the cupolas of St. Basil’s had been painted for. Their pinks, greens, and golds shimmered as if it were the sole purpose of a religion to cheer its Divinity. Even the Bolshevik girls conversing before the windows of the State Department Store seemed dressed to celebrate the last days of spring.
“Hello, my good man,” the Count called to Fyodor, at the edge of the square. “I see the blackberries have come in early this year!”
Giving the startled fruit seller no time to reply, the Count walked briskly on, his waxed moustaches spread like the wings of a gull. Passing through Resurrection Gate, he turned his back on the lilacs of the Alexander Gardens and proceeded toward Theatre Square, where the Hotel Metropol stood in all its glory. When he reached the threshold, the Count gave a wink to Pavel, the “afternoon doorman, and turned with a hand outstretched to the two soldiers trailing behind him.
“Thank you, gentlemen, for delivering me safely. I shall no longer be in need of your assistance.”
Though strapping lads, both of the soldiers had to look up from under their caps to return the Count’s gaze—for like ten generations of Rostov men, the Count stood an easy six foot three.
“On you go,” said the more thuggish of the two, his hand on the butt of his rifle. “We’re to see you to your rooms.”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“This novel is astonishing, uplifting and wise. Don’t miss it” ~ Chris Cleave
“No historical novel this year was more witty, insightful or original than Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow” ~ Sunday Times, Books of the Year
“‘Charming … shows that not all books about Russian aristocrats have to be full of doom and nihilism.” ~ The Times, Books of the Year
“[A] supremely uplifting novel ... It's elegant, witty and delightful - much like the Count himself.” ~ Mail on Sunday, Books of the Year
“The book is like a salve. I think the world feels disordered right now. The count’s refinement and genteel nature are exactly what we’re longing for.” ~ Ann Patchett

Book Clubbers’ Thoughts
Kerrie: “I was wading through the book and would have given up on it if I hadn’t been reading it for book club. I thought some of the situations didn’t make sense. However, after finishing it, I could see how clever the author was in his plotting. The Count’s situation reminded me of Julian Assange being stuck in the Embassy of Ecuador in London for nearly seven years.”
Kerry: “I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I still want to.”
Marie-Louise: “I haven’t read it yet, but I will.”
Maryann: “I’m halfway through the book and enjoying it, although I’m not sure where it’s leading.”
Consensus: A worthwhile read if you can make it to the halfway mark without getting bored.

My Review
I got this book on loan from the library.

On 21 June 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the Hotel Metropol, Moscow. His crime? Writing a poem that was considered revolutionary. He is moved from a lavish suite to a tiny attic room in the servants’ quarters with only a few possessions. However, with the aid of his stash of hidden gold coins, he is still able to buy little luxuries, have weekly haircuts at the hotel’s barbershop, and dine in the hotel’s finest restaurant. He spends his time reminiscing and talking to the pigeon outside his window, the one-eyed lobby cat, the hotel’s staff, and various visitors and hotel guests – in particular, Nina, the little girl who becomes his guide and helps him explore the underworld of the hotel.
For one sentenced to a lifetime of confinement, he’s not doing too badly. Where the story goes from here, I don’t know, as I haven’t had the chance to finish reading this book due to other reviewing commitments. I’m enjoying this gentle tale of the minutiae of the Count’s day-to-day activities in the Metropol. He is such a likable character, and the story is told with a surprising amount of humor. The book is full of literary references, and the author gives us a fascinating insight into life is Russia during the 1920s to 1950s, with stories from before and after the Russian Revolution.
On a stylistic note, all of the chapter names begin with the letter A. In an interview, the author states: “Early in the drafting of the novel, I had the instinct that I should follow the rule, and I trusted that instinct. One reader has suggested that it was my own version of playing ‘Zut’; another has suggested it was a tribute to the first letters in the names Alexander and Amor [this was my guess as well]; a third has suggested it was because the book is about new beginnings. All of these answers strike me as excellent!” Check out the Readers Guide on the author’s website for book club questions, the full interview with the author, a history of the Metropol Hotel, a playlist, and much more.

Some of My Favorite Lines
“It was the sort of reception one might have expected when arriving for a dinner party having forgotten to don one’s pants.”
“A king fortifies himself with a castle, a gentleman with a desk.”
“… imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.”
“Here, indeed, was a formidable sentence—one that was on intimate terms with the comma, and that held the period in healthy disregard.”

About the Author
Amor Towles
Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. Having worked as an investment professional in Manhattan for over twenty years, he now devotes himself fulltime to writing.
His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller in both hardcover and paperback and was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. The book has been translated into over 20 languages, its French translation receiving the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald.
His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, published in 2016, was also a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the St. Louis Dispatch, and NPR. The book has been translated into over thirty languages including Russian. In the summer of 2017, the novel was optioned by EOne and the British director, Tom Harper, to be made into a 6-8 hour miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh.
Mr. Towles lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.


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