A Gentleman in Moscow follows the Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov from the day he is placed under “house arrest,” which effectively means that he will live in his residence at the Metropol Hotel for the rest of his life, through the next 30 years. Although, in truth, the book covers nearly his entire life span through exposition and stories from his youth. Despite the expansive historical and literary content, actually almost the entire book takes place in within the hotel walls. And it works.
Towles tells this masterful story with nuance and grace. As a reader, we learn not only the Count’s story but those of his friends and neighbors, including one very imaginative and inquisitive 9-year-old girl named Nina who widens his worldview in unexpected ways and forever changes the way Alexander sees the hotel, it’s guests, and, ultimately, Russia. Although Alexander is irretrievably aristocratic, as evidenced by his refined manners and impeccable taste in food and wine, he never fails to imagine the world through the eyes of others. When he is forcibly moved from his luxury suite to a small room in the attic, he accepts this plight with grace and resolves to make the best of it. Alexander is likeable, but the cast of characters surrounding him are beautifully written and hypnotic.
This is historical fiction at it’s finest. Loaded with historical details, the story never gets bogged down in politics. The story is buoyed up by them. The prose is buffeted along by the world events that are inextricably linked with the fates of the characters. I found myself seeing Russia in a totally different way. Alexander is among those that lost the most with the Bolshevik revolution, but he doesn’t seem angered or bitter about his lot. Rather, he seeks to find his place in the world as it now is. His journey sheds light on how the attitudes inside of Russia differed between groups of people. Alexander’s closest friends are artists. His opinions and fears are formed by the dangerous place that people who did not share mainstream views occupied.
I felt myself transported to Alexander and the world of Metropol between the 1920s and 1950s. The cast of characters is memorable and I was thoroughly delighted by where the story ends up. I highly recommend this magnificent read.
This book is worth your time. Read it, love it, and share it with others.