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A Gentleman in Moscow

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A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humour, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

462 pages, Hardcover

First published September 6, 2016

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About the author

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 was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film and its French translation received 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. Both novels have been translated into over fifteen languages.

Mr. Towles, who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children, is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, obsolete accessories, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

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Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews586 followers
October 24, 2019
Tears were streaming down my face the last several pages. Turning each page slower - and slower - breathless - filled with gratitude- overwhelmed by what this rare book offers and then delivering a wonderful satisfying ending......to the already - rich- wonderful-absolutely marvelous novel.

Goose bumps and butterfly fluttering.....the writing is pulsing with life. Amor Towles's
leading man...."Count Rostov" ....[Alexander Ilyich Rostov]....or "Sasha", to a select few old friends, is THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL male character to come along in recent literature. I can't think of any other male character with the type of astounding dignity that 'Count Rostov' exhibits.

I was either losing sleep reading this book, tossing out all other daytime plans to continue, reading....or I was obsessively thinking about this book when I wasn't reading it.

My early thoughts were about Russia and the how the Bolsheviks came into power.....and the years that followed. Russia became symbolic of the spread of communism throughout the world.....resulting in the end of all aristocracy ----
Not only was Rostov's aristocracy being stripped away, but his self expression and freedom of speech was being taken from his as well. He wrote poetry.....and a poem called "Where Is It Now".....[I thought about this interesting title for some time]. As in where does Court Rostov stand now?
Rostov "has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class", according to
The People's Commissariat For Internal Affairs in Moscow 1922.

I kept thinking - isn't it 'somewhat' an odd punishment to be given a life sentence of confinement to the walls inside a hotel? A grand hotel at that-- The Metropol Hotel. I mean "Eloise" .... in the Plaza Hotel in New York City was happy, but she was free to step outside.
The Count's sentence is clear. Should he step outside the Hotel at any time, he will be shot-killed! I lost a few hours of my mind -- thinking 'only' about this.
Why? What else were choices of punishment for an aristocrat if not killed? Did they have prisons? And - where was his money coming from? Was food included without him paying for it in the restaurants in the hotel? How on earth could he possibly earn money? Buy clothes? Essentials? - For the rest of his life? How will he spend his time - and keep sane?
I was simply curious. And most -- how might I have behaved if I were in the counts situation? I'd like to think I might have stood tall- held my dignity - be the gentle woman - as Alexander was a GRAND GENTLEMAN.
The Count was a fabulous human being....a man I would love to have shared a glass of wine with. He was classy - witty- wise - intelligent- charming and kind. There are endless likable characteristics about Alexander. He was generous with his soul.

Count Rostov's days of writing poetry were behind him. He moved into a small room on the sixth floor in the attic. He was moved out of his luxury suite that he had lived in for four years in the past. Most of his 'valuable' books were back in Paris...but he kept one book that once belonged to his father -one he never had found time to read. "The Essays of Montaigne". He will finally have time to read Michael de
Montaigne' essays now ---who was one of the most significant philosophers of the French renaissance known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre.

In the first few weeks of living in the Metropol Hotel-- Alexander holds himself high - has no interest in bitterness ---GOD I LOVED THIS MAN---and quietly stayed in his room, reading, and reflecting. He ate his meals in either of the two restaurants: the Boyarsky or the Piazza. Count Rostov being a wine and food connoisseur, is a treat for us readers - as the descriptions of the food and wine are mouthwatering-savory-and scrumptious. The way the tables were set -the waiters and chef add to delightful glory as well. I could smell and taste the fish, while visualizing the seating in the dining room.
As for the conversations......
Well....in steps nine year old Nina Kulikova. Too adorable for words -right off the bat!!!
She's quite the conversationalist!!! She's living in the hotel with her father -and seems to have spare time for wandering. Their lovely friendship begins over lunch in the Piazza. Nina - of course - invites herself to Alexander's table by simply pulling up a chair, sitting down, and staring at his food. Their friendship continues when Nina manages to coerce Court Rostov into joining her in one of her many hidden excursions. SPYING into the secret passageways and locked rooms with the stolen key she has.
So 'how' does a precocious nine-year-old coerce a grown man to sneak around a hotel with her?
Nina says:
"Oh come along"
"I'd rather not"
"Don't be such a fuddy-duddy".
"I'm not a fuddy-duddy".
"Can you be so sure?"
"A man can never be entirely sure that he is not a fuddy-duddy. That is axiomatic to the term".
Off they go! One minute Nina is interested in knowing the rules of being a princess ( as when they first met in the restaurant), and the next moment she is enthralled by the assembly's energy and sense of purpose...( from when they are listening in on the Assemblies political discourse).
Nina is a wonderful companion - and because of their spy games, Alexander was able to listen to other 'fuddy-duddy's' discuss political and social changes.

Over the years - three decades at Hotel Metropol--Alexander makes many friends and acquaintances. His closest friends with the staff are: Andrey, maitre d' of the Boyarsky, Emile the Chef - Vasily the concierge and Marina the seamstress.

His old friend from Imperial University in St. Petersburg comes to visit him. Mikhail
Fyodorovich (Mishka), was in town to help plan the inaugural congress of RAPP.
Such a lovely friendship these two men shared. The Count took pleasure in his old friends romantic skirmish; yet felt a sting of envy.

Anna Urbanova a celebrity actress ....becomes a between-the-sheets friend.
Other people come and go ---
Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov is a former colonel of the Red Army- whom Alexander has many political conversations with.... and not only about Russia, but the rest of the world. They watch and discuss the movie Casablanca--- and the symbolism is achingly beautiful.
Out of all the people who come and go - it's Nina who has Alexander's heart the most.
A time comes when she does leave the hotel - but then she comes back years later for a brief visit - a visit that will alter Alexanders life.

Alexander Ilyich Rostov: somehow this man knew that life was never meant to be a struggle. If only I could learn from him. As The Count learned from his ancestors.....
"If a man does not master his circumstances he is bound to be mastered by them".

A Masterpiece! One of the most phenomenal book books in 'years'.

It's Nov. - almost Thanksgiving: I've read so many outstanding books this year it's ridiculously crazy-terrific. 2016 has been a year of favorite books....but "A Gentleman in Moscow" tops them all! Amor Towles delivered as a gift!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
May 27, 2019
Vyshinsky: Why did you write the poem?

Rosov: It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be sitting at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands.

Vyshinksy: And where was that exactly?

Rostov: In the south parlor at Idlehour.

Vyshinksy: Idlehour?

Rosov: The Rostov estate in Nizhny Novgorod.

Vyshinksy: Ah, yes. Of course. How apt. But let us return our attention to your poem. Coming as it did-in the more subdued years after the failed revolt of 1905--many considered it a call to action. Would you agree with that assessment?

Rosov: All poetry is a call to action.

 photo metropol-postcard_zpsbfxfpjcq.jpg
Hotel Metropol, Moscow

This is just a snippet from the appearance of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs on 21 June 1922. Rostov was a member of the wrong class and a "poet", as well. He was destined for a firing squad or an all expense paid trip to Siberia where he could still end up with a bullet in his head. The way the Russians were deciding who was a threat to their new nation and the proper punishment to be enforced per case was so arbitrary and inconsistent that it was impossible to anticipate what your fate was going to be once you came before the Committee.

Luckily for all of us, Rostov received a rather unusual punishment. He was put under hotel arrest for the rest of his life. He could not set foot outside the walls of the Metropol Hotel or he would be executed immediately. Given the alternatives, having to live in this grand hotel for the rest of his life was actually a gift. It was a microcosm of a city with a barbershop, clothing stores, and restaurants readily available for a man with discerning needs. He would finally have time to read, though he had left his books in Paris when he decided to come back to Russia and was now stuck with the dusty tomes of his father.

They had different tastes. He periodically made a stab at reading his father’s favorite book of Montaigne, but soon discovered it was the perfect height to level his table. Of course, the beautiful room with the balcony that had plenty of space for his family possessions was taken away from him. He was relocated to a small room in the attic.

He was constricted, but alive.

I was only a few pages in before I knew that the Count and I were not only going to be the best of friends, but that he was also going to be a model for how a man of honor should conduct himself. Here is an example of the Count telling us to reevaluate how we see the people we meet:

”After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of the hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration--and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

We do have to make a lot of snap judgements about people. Rarely are they all that accurate, though it is amazing how difficult it is to erase and rewrite the first impression we have of someone. I’ve been surprised more than once by discovering the depth of someone whom I thought was a shallow nincompoop. We’ve all felt the sting of people judging us too harshly or seeing us for someone less than who we are. I’ve experienced people actually loathing me, leaving me baffled as to what I could have possibly done to induce this level of animosity. Of course, it has to be some misconception, but nearly impossible to fix once they’ve locked me up with the other criminals in the dark, damp cells of their mind.

The Count always erred on the side of trusting too much rather than condemning someone too hastily. He was such a contrast to the new government who judged quickly and harshly with no compassion or consideration for circumstances. After all, Count Rostov was the last gentleman in Moscow, most of the rest having fled or been shot. He never forgot his breeding or his place in the world even if his universe had shrunk to the size of a city block.

His best friend Mishka, a poet, floated in and out of his life. He brought with him the golden memories of their childhood. They could reminiscence about the days of young adulthood when life was a pear, and the juice ran down their chins, and the sticky nectar of shared experiences was a fragrance that filled the room around them. Those were the days, as fleeting as they proved to be.

The Count was not lonely. After all, this was a grand hotel with new people coming and going every day, and there were even some people who elected to stay on a more permanent basis, like say an aging, but still beautiful starlet. ”After taking a quick look around, the Count crossed the empty sitting room and entered the bedchamber, where a willowy figure stood in silhouette before one of the great windows. At the sound of his approach, she turned and let her dress slip to the floor with a delicate whoosh….”

How may I be of service madam?

Not that there was ever a question of his character, but when a friend dropped a child, a girl, into his care, he proved remarkably adept at the task of raising this child. What was supposed to be a few months turned into decades. He loved her as if she were his own.

 photo amor-towles-metropol_zpsr2dp3yme.jpg
The author Amor Towles at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow

Amor Towles’s first book Rules of Civility was one of my favorite books I read that year. There is no sophomore slump with his second book. This is a charming book lyrically written. So spend a few hours with Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and see how to live a good life despite being made a caged bird.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
February 6, 2023
It’s always a shock, after you finish a particularly good book, to look up and see the world go about its business with perfect indifference, while you sit there, feeling that something has shifted, moved, broken open inside you. This is how I felt when I turned the last page of A Gentleman in Moscow, emerging from my trance of reading with a sense of unbearable unreality. Like I couldn’t remember being on my own bed, in my own room, the way one might feel when they're driving home and suddenly find one's self in front of the garage, unable to remember the actual drive.

The story begins when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is unceremoniously sentenced to life imprisonment in Moscow’s Metropol hotel. And for all that it is a prison, it is a luxurious one. The year is 1922, and behind it all, looms the haunting specter of a country that is at the fragile end of a brutal history: an ill-timed glance or a foot set in an unfortunate spot can bring down death and woe upon anyone, in the form of a bullet to the head or an exile to Siberia.

Alexander Ilyich Rostov, however, finds a fire, a ferocious brightness in this new existence. The Hotel Metropol is a world unto itself, and within its walls, “the world,” has indeed, “come and gone”. Over the years, Alexander forges a link between him and several residents of the hotel—the chefs, the doormen, the bartenders, the seamstresses—and creates a door that he can knock at and count on being opened at any time. But soon, the long years begin to press into Alexander’s life from every angle, and he begins to feel, for the first time, the true weight of his sentence. The fear that he wouldn’t ever leave the hotel, that he would stay and grow old and bent and be put in the ground there, is now a constant echo knifing through the count’s thoughts. The hotel is Alexander’s prison, and it is his sanctuary, but for how much longer can it be either?

To what end, he wondered, had the Divine created the stars in heaven to fill a man with feelings of inspiration one day and insignificance the next?

To set up a story of imprisonment within an unchanging setting and make it feel so hugely mesmerizing for several hundred pages couldn’t have been an easy feat. But in this novel, Towles, proving himself a maestro of his craft, sets off all the fireworks he can with it, and the resulting narrative, like the count, thrives in captivity.

I absolutely loved this book. There are so many things this novel does well that are worth to dwell on for several pages: like the beauty of the prose and how Towles pulls the reader deep into the currents of his language and makes us want to linger, like the gorgeously realized setting and the propulsive plot and how I had to marshal my tired eyes in order to see the pages, driving myself past exhaustion to a kind of surreal and tenacious wakefulness because I just couldn't. stop. reading. Like the author’s voice: the arched eyebrow, the confiding tone, the piercing irony, and the craftiness with which the author always seems to know the right nerve to touch, at exactly the right moment, to wound or to excite or to outrage most.

But what appealed to me personally in this novel was the character-work and the deep thematic currents that run through A Gentleman in Moscow. This is a novel with an abundance of things to say, with profound moving ruminations on selfhood, friendship, parenthood and the devastating unattainability of modest hopes. It is a novel driven so fiercely and so clearly by a deep urge to make observations about people, to see them, truly see them, and in turn, let them see themselves in all their glorious and sometimes mundane glory. The resulting narrative is an emotionally and intellectually rewarding experience; people, after all (to borrow some of the count's own words) “deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration.”

And people lay at the heart of this book: A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel that thrives with the people it focuses on, who are richly drawn, and who, together, make something like the word family. Starting with the count, whose character and life at the Hotel Metropol are so vividly painted for the reader. Alexander has such a strong presence to him, as though he breathes all the air on the page and only leaves enough for other characters by benevolence only, and it's a treat to simply spend time with him. I loved his dignity, his steadiness, his sense of humor, his heartbreaking thoughtfulness, and how he manages to preserve those qualities despite his circumstances. Alexander takes joy in savoring the simple pleasures of life—good wine, good company, and a good book. He charms people, and lets himself be charmed by them, making for some really captivating interactions with other characters. There's Nina, the precocious 9-year-old who holds a master key which allows her into every room; Emile, the grouchy cook with his caustic whit and cavernous gloom; and Andrey, the French maître d’ with a preternatural knowledge of the hotel’s inner workings and preternaturally agile hands. Their presence was like a warm stone the count cupped in his hands, and I really relished the feeling that their solitudes had joined together, canceled each other's out.

There is tragedy at the heart of this story, after all, but there is also so much ineffable tenderness—and this what follows the reader off the page.

“These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka—and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

It comes as no surprise to me that this novel was a hugely popular hit, and I’m so glad I read it. If you’re worried this may not be your thing—like I initially was—trust me: A Gentleman in Moscow is more than your thing, and I've no doubt you will enjoy your time here.
Profile Image for Bill Gates.
Author 10 books514k followers
May 20, 2019
Melinda and I sometimes read the same book at the same time. It’s usually a lot of fun, but it can get us in trouble when one of us is further along than the other—which recently happened when we were both reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

At one point, I got teary-eyed because one of the characters gets hurt and must go to the hospital. Melinda was a couple chapters behind me. When she saw me crying, she became worried that a character she loved was going to die. I didn’t want to spoil anything for her, so I just had to wait until she caught up to me.

That one scene aside, A Gentleman in Moscow is a fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of one man. At the beginning of the book, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. It’s 1922, and the Bolsheviks have just taken power of the newly formed Soviet Union. The book follows the Count for the next thirty years as he makes the most of his life despite its limitations.

Although the book is fictional, the Metropol is a real hotel. I’ve even been lucky enough to stay there (and it looked mostly the same as Towles describes in the book). It’s the kind of place where you can’t help but picture what it was like at different points in time. The hotel is located across the street from the Kremlin and managed to survive the Bolshevik revolution and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. That’s a lot of history for one building.

Many scenes in the book never happened in real life (as far as I know), but they’re easy to imagine given the Metropol’s history. In one memorable chapter, Bolshevik officials decide that the hotel’s wine cellar is “counter to the ideals of the Revolution.” The hotel staff is forced to remove labels from more than 100,000 bottles, and the restaurant must sell all wine for the same price. The Count—who sees himself as a wine expert—is horrified.

Count Rostov is an observer frozen in time, watching these changes come and go. He felt to me like he was from a different era from the other characters in the book. Throughout all the political turmoil, he manages to survive because, well, he’s good at everything.

He’s read seemingly every book and can identify any piece of music. When he’s forced to become a waiter at the hotel restaurant, he does it with this panache that is incredible. He knows his liquor better than anyone, and he’s not shy about sharing his opinions. The Count should be an insufferable character, but the whole thing works because he’s so charming.

Towles has a talent for quirky details. Early-ish in the book, he says the Count “reviewed the menu in reverse order as was his habit, having learned from experience that giving consideration to appetizers before entrees can only lead to regret.” A description like that tells you so much about a character. By the end of the book, I felt like the Count was an old friend.

You don’t have to be a Russophile to enjoy the book, but if you are, it’s essential reading. I think early 20th century Russian history is super interesting, so I’ve read a bunch of books about Lenin and Stalin. A Gentleman in Moscow gave me a new perspective on the era, even though it’s fictional. Towles keeps the focus on the Count, so most major historical events (like World War II) get little more than a passing mention. But I loved seeing how these events still shifted the world of the Metropol in ways big and small. It gives you a sense of how political turmoil affects everyone, not just those directly involved with it.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood, and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you’d be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story. Even if Russia isn’t on your must-visit list, I think everyone can enjoy Towles’s trip to Moscow this summer.
Profile Image for Adina .
889 reviews3,524 followers
October 10, 2018
Later Edit: I thought about deleting my confession because I received a few complains saying I got too personal. Most of my reviews are a bit but maybe a went too far with this one. However, I thought better and the review stays because i want it to be a warning that this social platform, which should be a place to share our opinion of books with each other in a friendly manner sometimes becomes a stress factor. There is a pressure to like some books because everybody does and you don't want to be the odd one out or you might feel reluctant to share your true feelings because some fanatics will attack you. Guys, we are here for the same thing, the love of books in general. We might not always agree but we should be kind to each other and respect other's opinions.


Ladies and gentleman! I have a confession to make! I pride myself that I am always honest in my reviews and for this reason I want to start the year with a confession about my original review of AGIM. I was dishonest. I increased my rating and I gave it a favorable review that was not in accordance to my real feelings. I do not know why, probably because so many of my friends were in love with it and I felt that I should have had the same opinion. During last year I've thought about this book a lot and a negative review I read today (by Jonathan) made me decide to come clean.

My true opinion about this book is that it is neither charming or fun. I could not stand the main character as I found him pretentious and superficial. The plot lacked realism and I do not feel it reflects the Russia of that time.

I also have to admit that O only read 60% of it.


Original review: I can define this book with one word, namely charming. As the word’s definition states, the book was very pleasant and attractive, thanks to its protagonist, count Alexander Rostov.

When the Bolsheviks came to power Count Rostov is sentenced to home arrest in Hotel Metropol, one of the most famous and elegant establishments of this kind in Moscow. Moved from his quarters to a small attic room, the Count needs to adjust to life in confinement and he does that with wit, dignity, poise and elegance. He treats the hotel personnel with kindness and interest and makes unforgettable friends from the employees of the hotel and guests. The most memorable is a little girl, Nina who becomes the count’s guide into the secrets of the hotel.

The book reads as a beautiful fairy tale. Its lack of realism and the count’s capacity to be above all Russia’s problems and also his own made me reduce one star. I enjoyed this novel although I read it very slowly. Some parts were marvelously enchanting others less so. All in all a beautiful book, quite fitting for this season.
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.7k followers
September 6, 2022
Adversity presents itself in many forms . . . if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that speaks to the heart of who I am, as though it's been written specifically for me. That's how I feel about A Gentleman in Moscow.

Count Rostov has been sentenced to house arrest in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. We follow him as he tries to make a life of purpose for himself within this small world. Instead of withdrawing and giving in to misery in the face of diminishing circumstances, he makes the most of his situation. He reaches out, opens his heart, and lets in all that life has to offer inside the hotel.

This story was an absolute joy to read! It's buoyant, charming, and so funny. There were many insightful passages into the human soul and the comedy that comes with trying to find life's meaning. This is the rare sort of book that I want to read slowly and savor every word. Often, I found myself marveling at what I had just read, and I have to reread and relish it again it before I could move on.

Even though this book is quite long, I blew through it. It didn't drag on or feel boring to me at all. I connected with it from the very beginning and knew early on that this would be a book I'd love. If you've been on the fence about whether to read this, especially given its longer length, give it a try. I think you'll be able to tell within the first few chapters if this is for you.

This brilliant gem of a book is so deserving of all the accolades it has received. Its exploration of human behavior and our never-ending drive to find happiness and purpose, no matter the circumstances, is so uplifting and enchanting. The best books steal a part of our hearts and remain with us long after they are read, and so this will be for me. I only wish I had discovered it that much sooner.

See also, my thoughts on:
Rules of Civility
The Lincoln Highway

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,479 followers
August 25, 2022
***UPDATE: Ewen MacGregor to star in this epic series****

I wanted to savour this one, word for word. Towles bestows on us a language to be treasured; a story to be remembered.
This was a remarkably enchanting narrative with a charming character. A gentleman, Rostov, has been put under hotel arrest. For the next several years, as he serves his time, relationships are cultivated from employees to guests to the visitors he receives and to a young girl whom he becomes a guardian for.
Very descriptive - I tasted almost every meal he ate - from the crisp and tartness of an apple; to the bitterness of his coffee. This is a man who truly separated himself from others in appreciating the simple things in life. A man who was duly present, authentic and honourable.

This is a story that should be read with a good bottle of brandy or simply with the purist adoration for a storyteller who can transcend time and magically entrance us. Bravo, Towles. Bravo. I bequeath a 5 star.
Profile Image for Candace.
1,176 reviews4,330 followers
July 19, 2017
'A Gentleman in Moscow' tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to live out the rest of his life on "house arrest" in the Metropol hotel, following his "conviction" by a Bolshevik tribunal. He was convicted of being an unrepentant aristocrat and is stripped of his wealth by the new Bolshevik regime. From one of the hotel's most prestigious guests, to a member of the wait staff, Count Rostov manages his fall from grace with poise and dignity.

This book provided beautiful imagery and a thought-provoking dialogue on the rise of communism in Russia over a period of about 30 or so years, beginning in 1922. I was amazed at the insights of Count Rostov related to world events, especially considering that he was confined to a large hotel for the majority of his adult life. He was an intriguing and remarkable personality.

Beyond all else, Count Rostov remained a gentleman. At times, his focus on manners and his devotion to various formalities seemed ridiculous. After all, he was essentially imprisoned in a gilded cage. What did he have to lose?

However, I came to appreciate the formal mannerisms of Count Rostov. He truly was a gentleman. By staying true to himself, he refused to let the regime win. He wasn't bitter. He didn't waste energy on blatant defiance of the Bolsheviks. He kept his head high and maintained his composure. It was truly impressive.

Over the course of the decades spent in the Metropol, a colorful cast of characters comes into the Count's life. Despite the fact that he cannot leave the hotel, he always has something interesting going on. Most notable were a handful of the hotel's employees, a famous actress and two young girls.

The first girl, a nine year-old named Nina Kulikova, becomes a constant in Alexander's life when she has a prolonged stay at the hotel. Alexander takes her under his wing, becoming a mentor of sorts. Together, the two make a game of spying on the hotel's various occupants and become virtually inseparable. Alexander counsels her on the characteristics of a princess. Nina breathes life into his day to day existence.

Years later, Nina returns to ask a favor of her old friend. She needs the Count to watch over her daughter while she goes in search of her husband, who has been taken by the regime. Alexander agrees.

As time passes and there is no word from Nina, Alexander raises her daughter as his own. Young Sofia is the source of his life's joy and purpose. Along with the other members of the hotel staff that comprise his inner circle, Sofia is brought up to be a proper young lady.

Spanning decades, 'A Gentleman in Moscow' provides romance and political intrigue. It certainly is no small undertaking. Accordingly, the story does seem to drag at times. There was just so much time covered and so many changes occurring, while the Count's life remained rather stagnant at times. Truly, that was his punishment - to be excluded from life outside the hotel while having a bird's nest views to watch it from the windows and balconies.

While I was taken aback by the beauty of this story at times, I also found myself bored for much of this book. Sure, there were many things that I found to be quite interesting about the Count's life and the ongoing commentary on Russia's Bolshevik-era politics. However, I found my mind wandering frequently.

That being said, I do think that this book is worth a read. It was interesting, if not always entertaining or gripping. I certainly feel more "enlightened" for having read this book. It was a nice change for me. Now, I think I'll jump right back into my preferred romance genre with a feel-good story that is about as deep as a kiddie pool. LOL.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
February 13, 2017
In the year 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to House arrest at the famed Moscow Hotel Metropol. Once of the landed elite of Nizhy Novgorod, the Count must live out the rest of his days in one small hotel room. As the Bolsheviks have persevered following their revolution, no long are there ruling classes in Russia, only comrades. It is under these conditions that Count Rostov has become a former person who can no longer step outside of the Metropol. Using this premise, Amor Towles has woven prose to create an enchanting story that makes up the Count's changed course of existence.

Over time, Count Rostov grew to call himself the luckiest man in Russia. This realization, however, occurs after he has been in the hotel Metropol for over thirty and forged close friendships with her staff and inhabitants. At first, he is a once proud man who has had all of his material possessions taken away from him and has to make do with life in a room, until the day that the Count encounters nine-year-old Nina, altering the course of his life. A precocious girl with an eye for adventure, Nina takes the Count with her on all of her forays through the hotel. No longer is the Count confined to a room with his books and manuscripts, but at the whims of an enchanting palace. House arrest becomes luxurious instead of the intended punishment.

Towles creates a compelling cast of characters to complement the Count, none more vital to sustaining his existence than Sofia, Nina's daughter who she leaves in his care. Rather than resenting this turn of events, the Count raises Sofia as his own daughter, and two become inseparable. Yet, Sofia is raised by the entire staff of the Metropol: Emile, the head chef of the Boyarsky restaurant; Andrey, the maitre d' restaurant; Marina, the seamstress who becomes a mother figure; and Vasily the concierge. The group becomes like family over the course of the Count's house arrest, and with the luxurious conditions of the lobby, bar, and restaurant, it becomes evident that the Count is the luckiest man in all of Russia.

What makes A Gentleman in Moscow a true work of historical fiction are Towles' apt descriptions of life occurring outside of the Metropol's walls. Stalin has taken control of the country, and Russians can either join the party, get shipped to Siberia, or otherwise conveniently disposed of. Relations with the west are tenuous at best but Towles relays these feelings in the Count's relations with American ambassador Richard Wilshire, who becomes a key figure in the novel. As long as one has friends within the party, which the Count manages to attain, even enemies like him can remain safe on a daily basis, even if it means living within the walls of a hotel.

A Gentleman in Moscow evokes an era of the tsar when the city rivals Paris and London as a destination for elite classes throughout Europe. A member of the landed aristocracy prior the Bolshevik Revolution, Count Rostov is well versed in literature, history, and appears to be a true renaissance man. Through his relationship with Nina and Sofia, Towles shows the Count to have a genuine soft spot in his heart as well, turning him into a truly memorable character. A delight of an enchanting story to read, A Gentleman in Moscow was worth the hype of the reviews I have read about it and rates 4.5 shiny stars.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 256 books408k followers
January 20, 2020
I’m not sure why I picked up this book. It just sort of found its way into my hands. A historical novel set in Moscow from 1918 through the 1950s, it follows Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a cultured and well-educated Russian nobleman who rushes back to his country in the early days of the Revolution, only to narrowly escape the firing squad and get sentenced to life imprisonment within his hotel, the Metropol. He is given this small mercy only because he once wrote a poem that some Bolsheviks consider to be proto-Revolutionary, and because Rostov himself never took sides in the conflict. A novel spanning decades with the action all confined within one building might sound claustrophobic, but not in Towles’ hands. He brings the world to the Metropol, and gives us a fascinating look at the changes in Russia from the early days of Lenin through the Stalinist era and into the Cold War under Khrushchev. Rostov makes the unlikeliest friends: high Party members, CIA operatives, scholars, movie stars, and a precocious girl named Nina who ‘adopts’ him and shows him all the back corridors and secret rooms of the hotel which she has explored. Though this is not a fantasy novel, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, because Towles manages to contain an entire world in a building. In fact, there is literally a secret passage in the back of a wardrobe, which Rostov uses to good effect. It is a novel of humorous vignettes and deft character studies, held together by the reader’s constant concern for Rostov’s safety. In the tumultuous U.S.S.R., almost no one is safe. A hero one day can be shot as a traitor the next. How can our friend the Count possibly have a happy ending? Is he, in fact, as one friend proclaims, the “luckiest man in Russia” because he is confined to the Hotel Metropol? I won’t give away the ending, but I found the book sweet, satisfying, touching, and surprisingly funny. Towles is a consummate storyteller.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,467 followers
August 18, 2021
"A gentleman can live through anything."
—Oscar Wilde

Reawakening my childhood memories of The Count of Monte Cristo, Amor Towles delivers a sprawling, chucklesome novel of aristocratic derring-do.
The Bolsheviks have seized power in Mother Russia and Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is placed under house arrest at Moscow's Hotel Metropol. A nobleman of impeccable manners, Rostov is billeted in an austere attic room with barely enough space to swing a Cossack, but nevertheless never allows his highborn standards to slip.
His Excellency is charm personified: he is altogether a bon vivant, a gourmet, a polymath and a gentleman of unrestrained integrity. Men love him, women adore him; even cats and dogs purr and pant in his glittering presence. In short, this is a chap who might make even Cary Grant seem inelegant.
Despite being born into privilege, and therefore used to being fawned over by all and sundry, our aristocrat never condescends his attendants and sees great nobility in the honest toil of the proletariat.
The novel is beautifully written and each inconsequential detail exquisitely observed (devotees of efficient, decisive prose need to stay well clear, lest they bring a temper tantrum upon themselves). Apart from the ghost of Tolstoy guiding his hand, I detect an evocation of Oscar Wilde's writing in Towles' flamboyant figurative imagery, and the story cleverly avoids the trapdoor of tedium, despite its opulent-yet-claustrophobic setting (think of The Grand Budapest Hotel and you'll summon a kindred vibe).
The Count is a fanciful, charismatic, genial companion; his waggish interplay with precocious kids, spiteful waiters and willowy movie starlets had me up on my toes and dancing the Kalinka with mille-feuille in hand!

Almost every man, woman and babushka on Goodreads have already favoured this book, so I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Was this another example of mass hysteria I wondered?

And I'm so pleased that I did take it on.
"Da!" I say. "Da!" (I said it twice).
This is a novel of such whimsical delight that it left me smiling from ear to ear for much of the read. And I defy anyone, or anything (man, woman, cat or dog), not to fall in love with Count Alexander Ilych Rostov!
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,459 followers
September 10, 2016
When everybody raves about a book, and then I don't care for it much, well I feel kind of depressed.

I will explain my reaction. Much depends on what you are looking for. First and foremost this is a novel, a fairy tale, a fantastical story. A mystery, suspense and the question is: will all turn out well? Will good win over evil? I prefer books that are gritty, depressing even sad, as long as they are realistic.

There are lots of historical tidbits and curios to pique the reader's interest. Literature, architecture, music, philosophy, cinema, English Asprey bags, Swiss Breguet timepieces and the famed Hotel Metropol in Mosco, its restaurants and bars, its staff and renown guests. You get a wide assortment of unrelated facts. Breadth rather than depth. Some facts were interesting, others less so.

The reader is confined to the hotel along with the central protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov. In 1922 a Bolshevik tribunal has judged him to be an unrepentant aristocrat. The story follows this one man, born in 1890, sentenced to live his entire life in the Hotel Metropol. He isn't shot immediately, only because he is said to have written poetry critical of the aristocrats, but one step out from the hotel, and he will be executed.

What is happening in Russia and abroad during Rostov’s years of confinement, 1922 -1954, is glimpsed through what the staff and visitors to the Metropol tell Count Rostov and us. We and he are confined to the hotel and what we learn we are told. One character is sent to a gulag but the reader does not go there. We don’t experience it. What is happening outside is told through others’ stories.

A central question of the novel is what Count Rostov makes of his life, a life confined to one hotel! He is relegated to a teeny room up in the attic. The book is often philosophical in tone. Much is said through innuendos, but too often the reasoning becomes convoluted. Little is said simply; that is not the style of the book. The Count is erudite and his language is learned, scholarly, lettered. There is quite a bit of humor, not always but often veiled. While much is said cleverly, sometimes it just becomes wordy. I appreciated the clever writing in the beginning, but by the end was simply worn out.

The narration of the audiobook is by Nicholas Guy Smith. Who has said that aristocrats speak in a clipped manner? This is the second time I have run across this misconception! I could understand what was being said, but I personally object to the stop and start, jerky tempo.

Convoluted language, often just plain wordy, long and drawn out. Too much of the story is told rather than experienced. Tons of assorted curios, which hopefully will interest you more than me. I would classify this as a fairy tale for adults.

Keep in mind, everyone else but me seems to love this story.

Rules of Civility I loved and gave a whopping five stars!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
May 13, 2018
5+ The Hotel Metropol in Moscow, within sight of the Kremlin, will see much in the coming years. It will also become the home and prison of the former person known as the Count Alexander Rostov. Sentenced by a Bolshevk Tribunal,he is confined for life in this Hotel. Summarily taken from the suite he had inhabited for four years, he is brought to the attic and given one of the storage rooms as his new home.

One of the most wonderful and memorable characters one is fortunate to make the acquaintance of, the duke, no longer to be addressed as his excellency, will make the most of his imprisonment. Through his eyes we will experience the many changes in Russia, from Stalin to Khrushchev, as the hotel is the home for many meetings and dinners of the top ranking members of the politburo. A friendship with a young eight year old girl will bring color to his life that will last for over thirty years.

This book as something for everyone, humor, some laugh at loud, some more veiled, food and wine pairings, amazing friendships, much history, literature, architecture and philosophy, even American movies. Some scenes that will surely leave you with a lump in your throat. Words, and insights that had me putting the book down just to think about what I read. Tightly constructed, things in the beginning that will come into play later in the book. Such a brilliant rendering of time and place.

I usually don't gush about a novel, but I loved everything about this book. What I write can't really do it justice, but whenever I think about this story, these characters, it make me smile. I wish they could step out of the book so I could meet them in person. As much as I loved his first book, I appreciated this one more. Read it for yourself, I am sure there is something in it form you to appreciate.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,442 reviews7,063 followers
December 6, 2016
Just across the square from the Kremlin, is the Metropol Hotel, where Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has a suite of rooms, but in 1922 he is sentenced to house arrest in that very hotel, and banished to a small attic room. His crime? He was found guilty of being the author of seditious poetry. Other than that, I'm not giving anything away.

I've found it difficult to review this one - how do you convey how it really made you feel deep down when it's left such a wonderful impression. On setting aside this book, it feels like I'm leaving a friend behind, but let's start with the writing, it was just exquisite. I actually felt as if I was in that attic room sharing his morning ritual of bitter coffee, biscuits and a piece of fruit. For a man of entitlement, used to the many luxuries in life, he derives extreme pleasure from the most simple things.

He takes his incarceration with good grace, and spends his time reading and reflecting on life, a life lived to the full, and one with which he regales us with great wit. He dines daily in one of two restaurants, the Boyarsky or the Piazza, and the meals eaten and the wine chosen to accompany these meals are described so accurately, it's almost impossible not to salivate at the thought of them.

The characters in the story are delightful, and Alexander befriends many of them, including those who at the time would have been seen as being beneath him, given his title and position. He is a kind, courteous and gentle man, and it's inevitable that you're going to love him as I did. He left me with that feeling you get savouring a delicious hot chocolate on a cold winter's night - warm, comforted, happy!

The storyline could have become monotonous, set as it was in this one hotel, but it wasn't - it was a joy to see how Alexander adapted to his situation, but if I have one criticism it was that I found some of the narrative overly long. Other than that, this was a gem of a story.

* Thank you to Netgalley & Random House UK/ Cornerstone for my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review*
August 31, 2023
A glorious 5 stars for this literary feast and applause for a favourite life quote “...what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

A Gentleman in Moscow is a story of a gentleman’s life that is changed beyond recognition, as he is sentenced to house arrest but nevertheless a life saved courtesy of a revolutionary poem. And a story set in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and creation of a new Russia. And here dear readers we have “A Gentleman in Moscow”.

An epic story that is told with sentiment but is not emotional, extravagant in its personal reflection but delicate in its expression and one that is beautifully crafted but casual in its delivery. A story that is stripped back from exaggeration, elaborate themes and complex characters and is so simple in its story it leaves you questioning why you love it so much, and the answer is, in my case, I just do!!!!

The Plot (ignore the plot if you have read the book already)

The year is 1922, five years after the Bolshevik Revolution and the execution of Tsar Nicholas when Count Alexander Rostov appears before the People’s Commissariat and a panel of judges who sentence him to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, where he is to live out the rest of his days. To ignore the punishment means certain death. At the hearing it is revealed that only for a poem that the Count wrote years ago that is sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause, he would be executed.

The book then moves into a spellbinding story of life in the hotel and the many people the Count meets, loves, and loses. There are too many characters to mention in the review the most significant are Mishka, a gifted poet and supporter of the Bolshevik Party, Nina who explores the hotel with a passkey that she later donates to the Count upon her departure from the hotel. Also the actress Anna Urbanova who invites the Count to her room and after dinner and so an unlikely relationship begins after she learns to forgive the Count for a kind gesture, that in her mind was too presumptuous. As for the hotel it is a place where he knew the staff like family, the hotel services by experience and the decorative and intricate styles of the suites by heart and from it he invented a little paradise reminiscent of the “lion the witch and the wardrobe” where he carved out his own little paradise, behind the wardrobe, and put his beloved desk there, he recalls “‘A king fortifies himself with a castle, … a gentleman with a desk.’”

Finally, we meet Nina’s daughter, Sofia introducing us to the most delicate and tender part of the story. Nina arrives unexpectedly in the hotel lobby asking the Count to watch over her daughter whilst she tries to get her life in order after the arrest of Sofia’s father leaving them homeless. Then over the next few days and weeks despite the Counts’ awkwardness and incompetence in the role of fatherhood, they strike up the most endearing father daughter relationship that plays out to the end of this beautifully crafted story, as Nina fails to return.

My Review and Comments

What I took from the story was the inevitability of change, as the Count accepts his new life as mere consequence while he watches the changes in Russia from his window and the Political changes to the country revealed to him by the many intriguing characters, events, and a world, that he is powerless not just to change but live in fully.

The book was outstanding in its expressive narrative, the scenes and emotions were vividly depicted and written with such elegant prose that you have to conclude that not a word could be written differently. The book was beautifully crafted to incorporate the perfect blend of historical context with wonderful characterisation and dialogue. Simple, tender, delicate, humorous, entertaining, optimistic, and extraordinary. Treasures like this don’t come around every day, an enthralling and captivating masterpiece of Historical Fiction.

And in the Counts words, we remember that “..life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve”. And in my opinion ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is a masterpiece and one of my favourite books of all time, and that opinion I am unlikely to ever change.
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,553 followers
June 2, 2021
Every now and again, along comes an outstanding novel that hits every aspect of what a great book should be. A Gentleman in Moscow is epic in its ambition, enthralling in its storytelling, entertaining in its humour and eloquent in its prose. The story is set amongst the socially chaotic birth of communist Russia, yet celebrates the dominion of the individual. Amor Towles opens the novel on 21 June 1922, with the Count being tried in front of the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for being part of the leisure class, corrupt and a threat to the new communist ideology.
Prosecutor Vyshinsky: State your name.
Rostov: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.
Vyshinsky: You may have your titles; they are of no use to anyone else. But for the record, are you not Alexander Rostov, born in St. Petersberg, 24 October 1889?
Rostov: I am he.
Vyshinsky: Before we begin, I must say, I do not think that I have ever seen a jacket festooned with so many buttons.
Rostov: Thank you.
Vyshinsky: It was not meant as a compliment.
Rostov: In that case, I demand satisfaction on the field of honour.
Secretary Ignatov: Silence in the gallery.”
The Count is found guilty but is saved from execution because he wrote a poem supporting the pre-revolutionary movement. Sentenced to indefinite house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, he will stay there until 1954. This opening scene illustrates many of the treats waiting for us in the novel - the Count at odds with the ruling party, his adherence to a gentleman’s behaviour, his courage, and the humour with which he dispatches commentary.

Immediately on his house arrest, Rostov is moved from his luxurious suite in the Metropol to the attic, and a small room that requires him to make sacrifices. Sacrifices in terms of possessions, liberty, social standing and relationships. In those moments we see the true character of a man. The Count is generally adored and respected as he accepts all these challenges with resolve, integrity, humour and the dignity becoming of a gentleman.

The talented Amor Towles weaved many aspects into the novel to add incredible depth, with references to Greek and Roman legends including Helen of Troy, and more modern associations with ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’. The revolving front door of the hotel is an interface between the outside tumultuous changes and harsh living conditions of Stalinist Russia, and the internal opulence of the hotel, as it resolutely maintains its luxury status.

Rostov makes very close friends with some colleagues, but notably, Nina, who as a nine-year-old girl shows the Count how to reverse the closing walls of the hotel and see numerous adventures in hidden corridors and rooms. Another little girl, Sofia, is introduced into the story who steals the Count’s heart and the connection they have is special beyond description. There are also threats and spies, only too willing to denounce other colleagues, so care is paramount. The character developed for Count Alexander Rostov is surely one never to be forgotten and his adventures, over thirty-two years within the Metropol Hotel, flowed with a constant fascination that remained enthralling from beginning to end – and what an end.

I was delighted to read this amazing work from Amor Towles, delighted to discover my great friend Ceecee hadn’t read it either and ecstatic that she wanted to read this with me. For a book that I have rounded down to 5-stars, I can only say, you HAVE to read this. Highly recommended!!
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
August 6, 2020
How To Be Charming

An old saw, from some unknown source buried in my sub-conscious, has it that ‘Charm is that personal characteristic which generates the response ‘Yes’ before a request is even made.’ Towles’s Count Rostov is the epitome of a man with this kind of charm. Rostov even charms the KGB into letting him live, in reduced but habitable circumstances, within the confines of the best hotel in Moscow. From there he continues for decades to charm the staff, the guests, and the wider world of smugglers, petty criminals, and exploiters of loopholes in Soviet society. Charm, however much it is a bourgeois virtue, certainly has survival value even in the most ardent of socialisms.

Towles’s literary achievement is the sustained capturing of charm throughout his novel. Rostov’s character is genuinely sensitive, polite, urbanely witty, composed and empathetic. A man of taste and refined judgment, he is able, with the assistance of his raft of friendly natives, to ‘make do’ on his urban island as well as any Robinson Crusoe - to eat well, dress well, and to maintain a modicum of civilised decorum. Charm, it must be said, is an eminently practical virtue which includes a certain degree of instinctive cleverness. Think of a Samurai who has an intimate knowledge of both Montaigne’s essays and the secrets of French haute cuisine.

Charm does not arise from an attempt to be charming. It is clear that Rostov’s Being is enervated by a sort of Leibnizian optimism that the world he inhabits is the best of all possible worlds. He is not a Pollyanna but a realist who, either by training or breeding, appreciates the manifold beauty of things around him and the opportunity provided by changing circumstances. He is, in short, content with himself. This is his strength and the source of his confident attentiveness. Charm, it seems, is also a spiritual quality that allows one to maintain a vision of those things which are essential versus those which are not.

Charm abhors snobbery in any of its forms - based on rank or position, on ideological convention, on education, background, or prospects. Charm admires and is excited by the authentic, that which is satisfying for being precisely what it is - soup, children, birds, bureaucrats, expensive restaurants, as well as less expensive restaurants. The rest is beneath consideration. Charm is an aesthetic that filters the world as well as shaping its possessor. What is seen, heard, and felt is not raw but pre-processed, as it were, to conform with the needs of charm itself. It is a type of positive psychological feedback loop: charm begets charming experience which promotes charm, in a manner described by the virtue ethics of Thomas Aquinas.

Charm is in some sense grounded in proper behaviour. Thus it has a certain reverence for tradition, ritual, and the conventional formalities of life. But when confronted with breaches in expected behaviour, charm does not censure, it considers the reasons and possible benefits of not just an exception to the rule but of the rejecting the rule entirely in order to promote a superior social harmony. Such adaptation is not a symptom of a lack of principle but a recognition, as it were, that the Sabbath was made for man. That is, charm has a profound egalitarian element that seeks to grease all the wheels of social intercourse. Charm has sociological import.

Quite apart from anything else therefore, A Gentleman In Moscow, is an instruction manual on a particular manner in which life can be lived, even if life presents serious adversity, even if there are no allies to provide comfort in that adversity. It is consequently edifying as well as entertaining - in short, charming.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
781 reviews12.4k followers
July 4, 2022
To appreciate this story you need to be able to immerse yourself into a leisurely languorous extolling of the virtues of finer things in life.

Alas, I cannot. I’m a cheap non-gourmand simple person who prefers practicality to nostalgia and will pick a good deal in Best Western over wallet-lightening Metropol Hotel in an eyeblink.
When I was a kid, I read a fiction book about inner workings of a 1950s New Orleans hotel - with the no-nonsense practicality named Hotel by Arthur Hailey. It was dry and strange and a bit too technical for a piece of fiction, but I found the inner life of a large fancy hotel fascinating (and still enjoyed it on the reread). And so I was immensely curious about A Gentleman in Moscow, set inside a hotel over a few decades — the book that promised lovely writing and philosophical asides, the bits that were missing from Hailey’s a bit dry offering.

But instead of taking me on a dreamy philosophical journey through a man’s confinement in a gilded prison of a fancy hotel as the turbulent early Soviet decades raged around it (1922-1954) I found that this book took me on a bored leisurely plod through overwrought mundanity.
“Raised in grand homes in cosmopolitan cities, educated in the liberal arts, graced with idle hours, and exposed to the finest things, though the Count and the American had been born ten years and four thousand miles apart, they had more in common with each other than they had with the majority of their own countrymen.”

This is a story of a refined society gentleman whose leisurely world was suddenly constricted to the entirety of a luxurious hotel which is supposed to be a prison and a gilded cage — but really ends up being a protective gilded bubble allowing for luxurious life of hanging out in inaccessible to most Soviet mortals fancy hotel restaurants and bars, partaking in gourmand meals and exquisite wines, leisurely reading classic novels, getting weekly barber visits and having a maid fix his clothes, playing with fantastically precocious children, rubbing elbows with actresses and Party officials and foreign diplomats, while the turbulent 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s relentlessly march outside, unable to reach universally-adored Count Rostov (the nobility title he manages to cling to despite living in Soviet Union) behind the porter-guarded doors of this oasis that, no matter how you try, does not appear to be a prison but is probably the safest haven imaginable.
“Who would have imagined,” he said, “when you were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia.”

The years and decades pass as we are enveloped in Amor Towles leisurely writing — vivid gourmand food descriptions, vivid luxury connoisseur views of the hotel, leisurely depictions of leisure, philosophical musings on the world and Russian mentality and the horror of uncouthness of a hotel waiter who dares to not know the perfect stew/wine pairing. We are treated to the instant adoration of the (former) Count by everyone who crosses the sophisticated man’s path, and even Party officials are not immune to his charisma.
“Today, the dining room was nearly empty and the Count was being served by someone who appeared not only new to the Piazza, but new to the art of waiting. Tall and thin, with a narrow head and superior demeanor, he looked rather like a bishop that had been plucked from a chessboard. When the Count took his seat with a newspaper in hand—the international symbol of dining alone—the chap didn’t bother to clear the second setting; when the Count closed his menu and placed it beside his plate—the international symbol of readiness to order—the chap needed to be beckoned with a wave of the hand; and when the Count ordered the okroshka and filet of sole, the chap asked if he might like a glass of Sauterne. A perfect suggestion, no doubt, if only the Count had ordered foie gras!”

The horror... Compared to this faux-pas, the Purges were a walk in the park.

Yes, we are told he’ll be shot the moment he sets his foot outside of his gilded bubble () — but why the hell would one really want to venture out? Rostov’s life is in a truly parallel universe to the rest of the Soviet Union, and that, my friends, is a thing to hang on to.
“Since the beginning of storytelling, he explained, Death has called on the unwitting. In one tale or another, it arrives quietly in town and takes a room at an inn, or lurks in an alleyway, or lingers in the marketplace, surreptitiously. Then just when the hero has a moment of respite from his daily affairs, Death pays him a visit.
This is all well and good, allowed the Count. But what is rarely related is the fact that Life is every bit as devious as Death. It too can wear a hooded coat. It too can slip into town, lurk in an alley, or wait in the back of a tavern.”

Then, of course, Towles shows that Life can intrude even on the gilded Paradise. Except for, of course, despite what I expected, life still cannot really breach this bubble of finer things in life into which Towles protectively wraps his character. The shallow, comfortable and surreally fancy existence is barely perturbed by anything.
“Even men in the most trying of circumstances—like those lost at sea or confined to prison—will find the means to carefully account the passing of a year. Despite the fact that all the splendid modulations of the seasons and those colorful festivities that recur in the course of normal life have been replaced by a tyranny of indistinguishable days, the men in such situations will carve their 365 notches into a piece of wood or scratch them into the walls of their cell.”

Compare your life to that in prison all you want, you are still rolling in luxury. Sir.

Forget the historic inaccuracies and liberties and jarring bits of clearly Western perception of Soviet Union life () — that I will forgive, given that, admittedly, not tons of historic research went into this, and that we are not actually reading a historic treatise. I can learn to treat this as a “alternate universe” kind of story where such things are possible.

What I can’t cultivate in myself though is that ability to immerse into the “finer things in life” and get myself lost in the long philosophical discussions while my brain yawns and demands for something to happen, for something to matter, for something meaningful to be at stake. For something that isn’t pages of playing games with surrogate daughters or hanging out in empty conversation with hotel staff, or long discussions with a poet friend who does not get to share your bubble, or counting freckles on your lover’s back, or lamenting the drop in the waiters’ quality, or rearranging furniture, or watching American movies with a Party official...

Wait, really, besides the above, what actually happened while the languorous narration extolled the virtues of gourmet food or fancy hotel lobby or excellent waiters? Well, we described honey tasting using this empty senseless - and, let’s face it, refinedly pretentious - word salad: “Rather than the flowering trees of central Moscow, the honey had a hint of a grassy riverbank… the trace of a summer breeze… a suggestion of a pergola…” No, you dolt, there weren’t pergola suggestions in your honey which you *just knew* had to come from your native town, because you are used to the universe bending over backwards for you.

Anyway, this was not for me.

2 stars for enchanting prose behind which was little substance.

This book was brought to you by the word “willowy”. If I never see that word again, I’ll die content.

Buddy read with Justin.

Recommended by: carol.
Profile Image for Nayra.Hassan.
1,259 reviews5,614 followers
December 5, 2022
نحن نحمل منفانا بداخلنا و الفائز هو من لا يسمح لمنفاه بقهره
عن علاقة التطور بالحرية و الفارق بين الارستقراطية و الاصالة يشجينا الجنتلمان
منذ سن التاسعة عشر و انا احظى بالكونت دى مونت كريستو كصديق مقرب..الان و بعد عقود:صار له رفيق يشاركه اللقب و المكانة و المحبس :الكونت ألكسندر روستوف "الرجل الذي يميل إلى رؤية أفضل ما فينا».ا

لكل حياة "مهما كانت":بداية و ووسط و نهاية ؛ قليل الحظ هو من يبدأ عزيزا و ينتهي ذليلا و لكن الفائز حقا هو من يهزم أعدائه بابتسامته و عزة روحه..هو من يحتفظ ببشاشته للنهاية

صباح الخير:كونت ألكسندر 🌞
في الصباحات تتقرر المصائر و تنفذ القرارات و ندفع ثمن الخيارات
و ذات صباح و هو في سن 33 يتلقى الكونت قرار بلشفي بتحديد اقامته حيث يسكن بفندق المتروبول العريق؛ كانت شجاعة حمقاء منه ان يظل بروسيا كاقطاعي بعد الثورة و لكنها "حماقة نبيلة"..رأي المركب تغرق ببطء شديد و لم يقفز بل فضل ان يكافح الغرق الحتمى مع اهل بلاده

للفنادق و القطارات و المطارات سحر ابدى ؛مستمد من دفء الغرباء فما بالنا بالمتروبول الضخم ذو الخفايا ؛بما فيه من غرفٌ وراء الغرف، وأبوابٌ وراء الأبواب

مساء الخير ايها : الشخص السابق ☀⛅
"و اذا كان الصبر سهلا لما صار فضيلة "
نحقق انتصاراتنا الصغيرة في منتصف النهارات الطويلة و اثناء غداء البياتسا اليومي؛ يجازى الكونت الذواقة على صبره فيقابل :نينا طفلة التاسعة؛ او: أليس التي ستعبر به للنضج عبر أقبية و مخابيء و ابواب المتروبول المزدوجة ..قابلها في يوم الافاقة الذي فقد فيه شاربيه بواسطة بلشفي مهان

ليلة سعيدة: روستوف *🌒
نصنع ذكريات تدوم بعدنا؛ في تلك الليالي التي تكتمل فيها اقمار حظنا
و للكونت ليالي منحت محبسه معنى و هدف رغم الاسوب البطيء
اول انتصاراته على المتروبول كانت تلك الغرفة الخفية الإضافية التي فاز بها' و ترمز لهدايا القدر التعويضية الخفية عن امانتنا و استقامتنا
داخل تلكُم الجدران الأربعة و الأمتار ال18 جاء العالم كله وذهب

ثاني انتصاراته كان عشاء شوربة البويابيس مع رفيقي
عمله وروحه
ثالث انتصاراته؛ فراش الطفلة صوفيا و بقاءها معه رغم كل شيء*

اجمل انتصاراته : العشاء الاخير بكل ايامه المتتالية🍎

من الطبيعي جدا ان تتساءل كقاريء هل هي رواية للرايقين؟هل سيفهمها من لم يتم حبسه لفترات طويلة خارج السجن؟
هل الكونت مدللا؟ لكنه لم يشكو
هل ساضيق بمحبسي الراقي لو كان في فندق ماريوت عمر الخيام؟ و هو المعادل المصري للمتروبول
طبعا هذا النمط من الفنادق التاريخية يكفل حياة راقية نفتقدها خارجه..و لكن ؟و لكن !ا

بين روسيا القيصريةو البلشفية ؛بين حرية العقل و الجسد عشنا مع الرجل المتفرد : الكاره للساعات ؛الذي اهدانا المنظار الجميل لنا ول نينا.. ..اهدانا عينيه لنرى الجمال في ما هو متاح لنا ..لنرى قسوة العالم من منظور نبيل من منظور ذواقة : ذواقة ارواح / اخلاق /معمار/ فنون /طعام /شراب..و للنهاية ظلت ازراره َ في عُلَبه

Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,263 reviews2,437 followers
April 30, 2022
This is one of the most challenging reviews I have ever written. There was a tug of war between my rational mind and emotional mind when I read this book.

My rational mind was too logical and was not ready to accept Count Alexander Rostov’s tryst with actresses and his culinary escapades like a connoisseur when the world was burning outside due to the world war. But my emotional mind was simply blown away by the philosophical brilliance. I finished this book a month ago. I thought about it again and again and reread some portions of it. I finally decided to follow my heart and my intuitions (just like every other time), and it says that this book is simply brilliant. Amor Towles could have easily written it in a more acceptable manner. But he decided to follow his heart which will give us a unique reading experience.

“What matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”
Profile Image for Karen.
592 reviews1,196 followers
September 12, 2016
Read others reviews of this book for I cannot do it justice, but I will say I just loved it, loved the Count and his interactions with everyone, especially Nina, and later Sophia. So many times this gentleman had me laugh out loud. I would have loved to have met him!
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
February 10, 2017
"… the Count hadn’t the temperament for revenge; he hadn’t the imagination for epics; and he certainly hadn’t the fanciful ego to dream of empires restored. No. His model for mastering his circumstances would be a different sort of captive altogether: an Anglican washed ashore. Like Robinson Crusoe stranded on the Isle of Despair, the Count would maintain his resolve by committing to the business of practicalities. Having dispensed with dreams of quick discovery, the world’s Crusoes seek shelter and a source of fresh water; they teach themselves to make fire from flint; they study their island’s topography, its climate, its flora and fauna, all the while keeping their eyes trained for sails on the horizon and footprints in the sand."

Moscow, 1922: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to a life of isolation within the walls of the illustrious Metropol Hotel. His crime being simply that he is an aristocrat and a poet and therefore a threat to the ideals of the party. Removed from his luxurious suite and banished to the cramped quarters of an attic room, the Count resolves to make the best of his situation – which he undoubtedly accomplishes with the dignity of a gentleman and tasteful good humor.

You may ask how a story about a man imprisoned within such lodgings, no matter how grand the edifice, could hold your interest. Well, the answer is superb writing, wonderful characters, interesting history, dazzling storytelling, and a delightful dash of wit! I could carry on with more gushing adjectives, but I’m sure you get the picture! Needless to say, I adored the Count and this book. From the “Triumvirate” of close personal friends that share in the Count’s reverent appreciation of fine food and drink, to the adventurous Nina who teaches the Count the innermost secrets of the hotel, to the steadfast and reserved friend Mishka, to the lovely and celebrated actress, Anna, and to the unlikely party friend, Osip, we become bosom buddies ourselves with this diverse cast of characters. I did not want to leave these friends when I turned the last page!

The Count’s admiration of great literature and music and exquisite food are ones I suspect most readers will find quite delightful. One could almost imagine sitting in the Boyarsky, "the finest restaurant in Moscow, if not in all of Russia", across from the Count and indulging in the most enticing dishes, so vivid are the descriptions of the food. How about just a little taste of that Latvian stew – "The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients came together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggested the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine." Or a generous pouring of a vintage bottle of wine – "In a sip, it would evoke the timing of that winter’s thaw, the extent of that summer’s rain, the prevailing winds, and the frequency of clouds. Yes, a bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place, a poetic expression of individuality itself." A cherished copy of Anna Karenina has been a constant companion of our distinguished Count, and I am sure many will appreciate the value of that sacred tome as well.

This book is not just a hedonistic treasure; there exists a compelling plot that Amor Towles executes brilliantly. You have to read it to see for yourself. Steeped in the atmosphere of the time and place, A Gentleman in Moscow is a book not to be missed. With the end of the year approaching and the time for resolutions to be put in place, I have resolved, like the Count, to try to live my life to the fullest, no matter what small literal and figurative boundaries in which I feel myself confined.
Profile Image for Erik.
Author 61 books65.6k followers
July 10, 2019
Probably the best book I've read over the last decade. Magical, in fact.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books774 followers
April 29, 2023
A cutesy-wootsy, fluffy-wuffy account of life in revolutionary Russia. Occasionally beautiful, but for the most part pretentious and very, very dull.
Profile Image for Matt.
935 reviews28.6k followers
December 23, 2022
“A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years.”
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

“Alexander Ilyich Rostov, taking into full account your own testimony, we can only assume that the clear-eyed spirit…has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class – and now poses a threat to the very ideals he once espoused. On that basis, our inclination would be to have you taken from this chamber and put against the wall. But there are those within the senior ranks of the Party who count you among the heroes of the prerevolutionary cause. Thus, it is the opinion of this committee that you should be returned to that hotel of which you are so fond. But make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot. Next matter.”
- Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

The plot: an aristocrat is put on trial in revolutionary Russia. He is accused of a nothing-crime, a thing for which the Bolsheviks were notorious. This man, now a Former Person, is sentenced to exile within his own country.

At this point, you are probably thinking things like Siberia and Corrective Labor Camps. Close, but you’re way, way off.

The Gulag Archipelago this is not.

The Former Person in Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow is the witty and urbane Count Rostov. In the opening pages, which is presented as the transcript from Rostov���s trial, he is sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest in the luxurious Metropol, a famous hotel in Moscow.

Admittedly, my self-study about the Russian Revolution and the U.S.S.R. is a work in progress. However, based on what I have learned so far, it seems far more likely, given Bolshevik predilections, that Count Rostov’s hair would have ended up against a wall. Certainly, being forced to live in a place you love – while not ideal – is also a far cry from what happened to most of the people who came to the attention of Soviet authorities.

Thus, as I started this book, I was having a really hard time swallowing this conceit. I kept waiting for the dark turn, the point where things got real. If we’re being honest, I almost quit within the first few pages. It was like reading the script to a Wes Anderson film. Everything seemed so quaint and cutesy and detached from historical reality that I did not know if I could make it to the end. (And at 462 pages, this is not exactly a novella). But I am in a new town, and I just joined a new book club, and I couldn’t show up to my first book club without giving this maximum effort.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but within the first hundred pages, things just snapped into place. Towles’ perfectly-manicured prose lulled me into a spell. I was enchanted. That’s when it hit me: this is a fairy tale. A fairy tale set in a magical hotel that never quite loses its shine, that never seems to suffer the abject deprivations found in the rest of Russia (even during World War II, which is barely mentioned), that is peopled by a host of revolving characters, ranging from a precocious girl to a famous actress to loudmouthed American soldiers.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an epic bottle episode. I kept expecting something to happen where the story would break free from its setting, but it resolutely stays its course. Save for a precious few incidents, the narrative never leaves the confines of the Metropol. More than that, Towles does not rely on flashbacks to take us to other places.

Towles does periodically use an omniscient narrator who swoops in – sometimes in the form of tongue-in-cheek footnotes – to give us little glimpses of the outside world, or snatches of prophecy that hint at things to come.

Aside from these minor breakaways, we spend ninety percent of our time with Count Alexander Rostov. And boy, he is a creation!

It’s hard to explain. Rostov is not given layer upon layer of psychological depth. He is certainly not one of Dostoyevsky’s tortured souls. Instead, he is – for lack of a better word – cool. Rostov is dope. With few exceptions, nothing ever gets to him. He doesn’t get shook or rattled or frazzled. He does not sweat or get frustrated or stammer. He probably does not put ice in his wine or eat shredded cheese straight out of the bag while standing in front of an open refrigerator. (I don’t either, just to be clear).

With all due respect to the Dos Equis pitchman, Rostov is the Most Interesting Man in the World. There is no occasion to which he cannot rise. He always has the perfect literary reference, the most incisive quip, the most telling anecdote, for every happenstance. He knows books, poetry, and philosophy. He has impeccable manners, a warehouse of bon mots, a back catalogue of polished stories, and a gourmand’s vast knowledge of food.

He can also hold his liquor, fight a duel, and keep his promises. In short, you will not forget him. That’s important, because Towles’ tale sticks to Rostov like a scent.

The characters around Rostov are never fleshed out, yet are charming nonetheless. You have the perfect headwaiter, the high-strung chef, and even a decent (!) and open-minded (!) Communist apparatchik who just wants to chill with Rostov and watch American movies.

This is not a plot-dependent novel. Rather, for much of the time, things just sort of drift, the years accumulating, the world changing outside, while the Metropol remains mostly the same, just a little scruffier. Things occur episodically. That is not to say there is no endgame. There is, and Towles builds toward that meticulously, bit by bit, until he is ready to fire all of Chekov’s guns at once.

The writing is assured, the dialogue quippy. At times there is real lyricism in the prose, though this is not stylistically ornate. Even throwaway lines are delivered with care, as when the Count, early in the novel, muses on losing his life’s possessions:

‘Tis a funny thing, reflected the Count as he stood ready to abandon his suite. From the earliest age we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. We see our parents and siblings off at the station; we visit cousins, attend schools, join the regiment; we marry, or travel abroad. It is part of the human experience that we are constantly gripping a good fellow by the shoulder and wishing him well…But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn’t welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity – all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. The armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candelabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears… Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion…But, of course, a thing is just a thing.

The larger part of the Count’s motionless journey is accepting the end of the old days. To that end, he meditates on his former self – and whether his current self might be his best version:

“I’ll tell you what is convenient,” [the Count] said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest conveniences…and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

These are simple lessons, of course. But then again, the most important lessons in life are the simplest. They are the ones we were told as children. Only time and experience made them real. Some of our greatest stories teach us the most obvious things, but do so in a way that ensures we can never forget. A Gentleman in Moscow is set in the heart of one of the cruelest and deadliest regimes to ever exist. Yet at its heart it is a wise and warmhearted fable, impeccably detailed and delightfully told and filled with the reminders of the little things that give life value.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,321 reviews2,142 followers
September 29, 2021
What a beautiful book. This one will almost certainly be in my top five reads for 2017. It was perfect.

Count Alexander Rostov is one of those characters who lives on long after you have finished the book. Imagine being confined to one hotel for thirty years of your life, never able to even step outside its doors. Yet Rostov not only does not give up, he actually makes a wonderful life for himself and enjoys every day. I loved him for his kindness, his optimism, his practicality, and eventually for his incredible smartness and cunning in making his break for freedom.

At the end, which was magical, I still wanted more. What happened next? Where did he end up? What happened to Sophia? I want more please Mr. Towles!

I listened to this book on audio which was delightful. The narrator was excellent. Now though I have to go buy the book because I need to have it on my shelves.
It's a keeper.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,412 reviews35.2k followers
February 20, 2017
A Masterpiece!

This book was so good. Words such as wonderful and beautiful come to mind. The writing was simply wonderful. The story was beautiful. This book almost dripped with elegance. This book is not to be rushed. Do not read this book fast. Like a good glass of wine, this book should be savored and enjoyed slowly.

Count Alexander Rostov is deemed to be a unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal in 1922. He is sentenced to house arrest at the Metropol Hotel, a hotel across the street from the Kremlin. The count, who has never worked a day in his life, had been living in luxury at the hotel when he was sentenced to house arrest. Now, he must live in attic quarters and leave most of his belonging behind. The items he does take with him have significant meaning to him. He never seems to pout or complain about this change in circumstances. He continues to maintain his schedule and even entertains quests in his attic room.

This book spans decades and shows how one man can build a life for himself no matter where he lives. The Count was able to build close and meaningful relationships with the staff and others living at the Hotel. He grows to think of himself as lucky. Stripped of his title, he is still a gentleman in every sense of the word. He holds his head high and lives a meaningful life. The saying you can't buy class comes to mind. Even though the Count was stripped of most things, he still had class, dignity and grace.

He builds a relationship with Nina, a 9 year old with a sense of adventures who takes the count on adventures throughout the Hotel. This opens his eyes and he learns that there is much more to this Hotel and the people who work there. From then on, he continued to have adventures inside the hotel.

The story has a lot of Russian history sprinkled throughout. It is vital for understanding the politics at that time and what was occurring outside of the walls of the hotel.

This book really took me by surprise. I really didn't see this book coming. Of course I heard the bzz about this book, but I wasn't sure with the description that I would enjoy it as much as I did. This book simply tipped toed up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and begged to be read.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
August 29, 2016

I wanted to read this because of the wonderful story that Towles gave us in Rules of Civility, that wonderful sense of time and place - New York in the 1930's. This is a different story, but what is the same is the brilliant story telling, the amazing sense of time and place. This time we see Moscow starting in 1922 snd spanning 30 years, through the eyes of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and we get a window view of what is happening in Moscow, in Russia, in the world. It is literally a window view because the Count has been placed under house arrest and is destined to spend his years in a luxury hotel, the Metropol. It is not, however, the luxury suite that he has been living in for the last several years, but a small attic room that he has been relegated to .

Having lived the life of an aristocrat, how will he survive this exile ? It is with the gift of adventure from a little girl who favors wearing yellow and who shows him places in the hotel he has never been. It is with the gift of wonder over a simple beehive and memories that the old handyman gives him with a small taste of honey turning out to be a gift of life. It is with the gift of intimacy, love from a beautiful actress. It is with occasional visits from his best friend Mishka who gives him the gift of their shared past and love of literature, and with friendships from a cast of characters including an unlikely one with Osip Glebnikov, Red Army colonel and official of the Party. It is also with his strength of character that as a reader I hope to find in every hero in every novel I read.

I can't say that I was taken with every page . There were a few times when I thought it was a little lengthy but then, then the love, the friendships and a little girl named Sofia fill the story with so much heart and humanity, I can hardly give this book any less than five stars.

I'm grateful to Viking/Penguin and Edelweiss for approving an ARC of this book ( after two refusals I requested it again and third time was a charm! ) Thank you .
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,173 followers
July 20, 2021
I’ve enjoyed other books where the captivating and seemingly effortless storytelling is actually carefully and comprehensively crafted.
I’ve loved other charming and clever heroes who seem almost too good to be true.
I’ve read other books that are hugely enjoyable and also have great literary merit.
But I rarely encounter one volume that combines them all.
This is such a book.

The telling

The story is long in time and small in place: a road movie without a road. In 1922, Count Rostov is put on trial as the author of a seditious poem. He’s sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s glamorous Metropol Hotel, where he’s been living for nearly four years, but demoted from his lavish suite to a tiny attic room. If he steps outside the hotel, he’ll be shot. By 1954, he’s still living there, but has long been a member of staff.

Pomp is a tenacious force. And a wily one too.
The Count realises early on that the Bolsheviks will succumb to lavish ceremonies and much else they claim to decry.
[They] clamor about the world’s oldest problems in its newest nomenclature.
He astutely observes decades of political upheavals, and those who instigate them, but as he is confined to the hotel, the true horror of the revolution is at one remove. It's also diluted by occasional quasi fantastical flourishes. He is unfailingly charming, and to some extent, he continues to live a charmed life. Further intrigue comes from a small but regular stream of international guests.

Towles wastes nothing. Every item, person, event, and glance serves a later purpose: Chekhov’s Gun dialled to eleven, with a veritable fusillade in the final pages. Some of the individual chapters could stand as perfectly formed short stories, complete with character development, a gentle plot turning dramatic, all seasoned with humour and profundity, and each little incident proving significant.

Image: Cog wheels of an antique clock (Source)

It’s a character-based book, including intelligent and independently-minded women taking control at key moments, plus the odd, wry footnote. Then, in the final section, plot comes seamlessly, forcefully, and nail-bitingly to the fore. That change echoes earlier ideas, especially chains of events and the passage of time:
Life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds… the manifestations of a thousand transitions.
Things fall into place like the cogs of the twice-tolling clock.

The Count

I adore Count Alexander Rostov. He is unfailingly kind, patient, polite, erudite, generous, witty, meticulous, urbane, cultured, unflappable, adaptable, empathetic, discreet, ingenious, and honourable. He’s respectful to women, interested in children, kind to animals, nostalgic about apples, and believes meteorology is destiny. He could be infuriatingly perfect and sanctimonious, but instead, he’s delightful and plausible.

Life has been generous to me in its variety.
Most usefully, he is pragmatic about the limitations imposed on him and appreciates the smallest luxuries. He would agree with Iris Murdoch that "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats".


The elegant phrasing, coupled with the superb storytelling and vivid characters, make the mentions of literary greats, along with weighty historical, political, and philosophical ideas as digestible as the very best bouillabaisse. It's like puréeing vegetables to smuggle them into the meal of a reluctant child. (Minor characters tend towards amusing caricatures, but the main protagonists are fully rounded and develop over the years.)

Image: Bouillabaisse in a copper pan (Source)


The Russians were the first people to master the notion of sending a man into exile at home… There is no beginning anew.
I read this in the second year of the Covid pandemic, when many of us have had spells of near house arrest under threat of possible death. Would I swap my lockdown for the Count’s? Only if I could spend it in his company.

The sort of colorful incident that an international hotel should aspire to have as part of its lore.
From the start, I was reminded of my favourite film, The Grand Budapest Hotel: Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustav and the hotel itself.

What have the Russians ever done for us? A German hotel guest claims the only thing Russia gave the west was vodka. The Count adds Chekhov (master of the short story), Tolstoy (master of the long), act I scene I of the Nutcracker (setting the mood for Christmas), and caviar. Not as funny as Monty Python’s famous question in The Life of Brian, "What have the Romans ever done for us?", but just as true. I would add matryoshka dolls, not as souvenirs, but for their use in narrative arcs and literary analysis. However, in this particular book, set in a hotel where there are “doors behind doors”, such dolls have a literal and metaphorical role.

Image: The grand dining room of the (real) Metropol (Source)


Every word of the many chapter titles starts with “A”. On his website, Towles says he doesn’t know why. But in a recent BBC radio interview, he said “I wanted to signal to the reader... it is to some degree a magical tale”.

It skips the whole of WW2, jumping from 1938 to 1946.

Watch out

A 16-hour TV adaptation for Apple+ TV is in the pipeline. Better than a two-hour film, but Kenneth Branagh is too hammy theatrical for the Count. If you want to watch it, I strongly suggest reading the book first or not at all. Branagh is always memorable: if you see the film first, you will only ever see and hear the Count as Branagh, and that would be a mere shadow of Towles' creation.


• “If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

• “Loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”

• “The Countess was one of those dowagers whose natural independence of mind, authority of age, and impatience with the petty made her the ally of all irreverent youth.”

• “For centuries champagne has been used to launch marriages and ships. Most assume this is because the drink is so intrinsically celebratory; but, in fact, it is used at the onset of these dangerous enterprises because it so capably boosts one’s resolve.”

• “The Confederacy of the Humbled… For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confederacy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offence.”

• “I’ll tell you what is convenient… To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences… and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

• “One can revisit the past quite pleasantly, as long as one does so expecting nearly every aspect of it to have changed.”
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.4k followers
December 13, 2016
This really was a special book, one which at times felt almost magical.

Count Alexander Rostov was always a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. He was always nattily dressed, participating in intelligent conversation, enjoying fine food and drink, and the company of erudite and beautiful people. Rostov lived in grand fashion in Moscow's Hotel Metropol, a hotel just across the street from the Kremlin, and he thrived on being a part of the buzz that passed through its doors and around its bustling neighborhood.

In 1922, he was sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest at the Metropol, although the Bolshevik tribunal that issued the sentence wasn't simply content with allowing him to continue living in grandeur—they reduced his living quarters to one small room in the hotel belfry. But while no longer being able to step outside the hotel doors, and having to cram most of one's cherished possessions and family heirlooms into one tiny room might bring a lesser man to his knees, Rostov is (mostly) unbowed. He doesn't allow himself to miss a step of his usual routine, and it isn't long before he realizes how a life lived within one building can be just as full of excitement as one lived all over the world.

"...if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them."

While Russia and the world are experiencing events which cause major upheaval, Rostov doesn't miss out on it all. He can take the country's temperature, of sorts, by studying the behavior of the hotel guests, its managers, and its employees. While many may have written him off as a frivolous dandy, it's not long before many realize the Count's worth is far greater despite his diminished circumstances. He quickly is woven into the fabric of all of the hotel's goings-on, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, and forms relationships that have ripples in the outside world, even as he realizes that the world he once knew and loved has changed.

"For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they set into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother-of-pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness."

Spanning several decades, A Gentleman in Moscow is rich with emotion, social commentary, humor, even Russian history. As he did in Rules Of Civility , which also was a fantastic book (see my review), Amor Towles both reveres and satirizes the world in which this book takes place, but the love he has for his characters is a beacon above it all.

While at times the book got a little too detailed with the workings of Russian government, poetry, and Bolshevik history, it always quickly got itself back on track and brought me back into the book's heart. These characters were so special, so fascinating, and Towles' storytelling was so vivid, I almost could see the scenes playing out in front of my eyes as I read them. And honestly, Count Rostov is a character worthy of being put up on a pedestal like other unforgettable ones.

I was a little late to the party on reading this, but I'm so glad I did, and I'm glad it lived up to the praise so many others have bestowed upon it. If you like novels with social commentary, satire, history, and a huge dollop of heart, pick up A Gentleman in Moscow . You'll marvel at it, and even want more.

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