Gentleman in Moscow (Towles)

A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles, 2016
Penguin Publishing
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780670026197

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style. Readers and critics were enchanted.

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 humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.(From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—near Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A., Yale University; M.A., Stanford University
Currently—lives in New York City, New York

Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. For his M.A. thesis, he wrote  a series of five related stories that was published in the Paris Review in 1989.

Towles spent the next 20 years in the financial industry as director of research for Select Equity Group, an $18 billion hedge fund. During that time, he never gave up the dream of becoming an author. A decade into his financial career, he began work on a novel set in the Russian countryside, only to toss the manuscript after seven years. Finally, in 2006, he made another effort, this time succeeding with what would become his 2011 debut novel, Rules of Civility.

In 2013, Towles retired so he devote himself to full-time writing. His second book, A Gentleman in Moscow came out in 2016. According to Towles, the book was inspired by a business trip two years earlier as he mused about guests at Le Richemond hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. He had noticed the same people on a previous trip, and he began to wonder what it would be like to be trapped, for decades, inside a hotel. Towles wrote his thoughts down on Le Richemond hotel stationery, notes which he has kept to this day. (Adapted from the publisher and Wall Street Journal.)

Book Reviews
In Amor Towles’ sparkling new novel, the dreary landscape of the former Soviet Union is transformed into a fairy tale land of candlelit dinners, hidden treasures, love struck movie stars, and precocious little girls. It all takes place within the walls of Moscow’s famed Metropol, one of the world’s grand luxury hotels. There, in 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. And what a life it turns out to be!  READ MORE.
Molly Lundquist - LitLovers

The novel buzzes with the energy of numerous adventures, love affairs, twists of fate and silly antics.... And there is some beautiful writing.... [But while] the author’s light, waggish style suited the cafe society of Rules of Civility,... Stalin’s Soviet Union is another matter, and this is where his novel fails. "Let us concede," he remarks, "that the early thirties in Russia were unkind." Over four million people perished from famine in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930s.... To flippantly refer to this moment as "unkind"...speaks to a disturbing lack of empathy and even moral imagination.
Douglas Smith - Wall Street Journal

Count Rostov is a memorable character you come to care about and root for.... Towles introduces his character slowly, offering glimpses of the man and his past as the story proceeds. But from the start, Rostov is quite the Renaissance man. He can taste the nettles tucked under the Ukrainian ham of a saltimbocca "fashioned from necessity"; seat a banquet's worth of Soviet bigwigs with a diplomat's dexterity; memorably bed an actress; befriend practically everyone; and quietly outwit dogmatic apparatchiks.... "Marvelous" is a word I'd use for this book..., [which] left me with conflicting emotions. I was happy for a good, engaging read. And I was sad that it was over and I had to bid Count Rostov adieu.
Bill Daley - Chicago Tribune
Rostov passes the decades making a whole world out of a hotel and the people in it....[living] a full and rich life according to the principle that, "If one did not master one's circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them." A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel that aims to charm, not be the axe for the frozen sea within us. And the result is a winning, stylish novel that keeps things easy. Flair is always the goal Towles never lets anyone merely say goodbye when they could bid adieu, never puts a period where an exclamation point or dramatic ellipsis could stand.  winning, stylish novel.

Enjoyable, elegant.... As years pass, Rostov finds that his confinement has conversely broadened his personal horizons.... There are two surprises at the end of the novel; you’ll nod at one, and raise your eyebrows at the other. Even greater delights, though, are found in Towles’ glorious turns of phrase.
Melissa Davis - Seattle Times

Irresistible.... In his second elegant period piece investment banker turned novelist Amor Towles continues to explore the question of how a person can lead an authentic life in a time when mere survival is a feat in itself.... Towles’s tale, as lavishly filigreed as a Faberge egg, gleams with nostalgia for the golden age of Tolstoy and Turgenev...reminding the reader that though Putin may be having a moment, it’s Pushkin who’s eternal.
Oprah Magazine

The book moves briskly from one crisp scene to the next, and ultimately casts a spell as encompassing as Rules of Civility, a book that inhales you into its seductively Gatsby-esque universe.
Town & Country

[A]n engaging 30-year saga set almost entirely inside the Metropol, Moscow’s most luxurious hotel.... Episodic, empathetic, and entertaining, Count Rostov’s long transformation occurs against a lightly sketched background of upheaval, repression, and war. Gently but dauntlessly, like his protagonist, Towles is determined to chart the course of the individual.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Towles grandly unfolds the life of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov in Soviet-era Moscow.... As urbane, cultured, and honey-smooth as the count himself, even as his situation inevitably creates suspense, this enthralling work is highly recommended.  —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

In his remarkable first novel, the bestselling Rules of Civility, Towles etched 1930s New York in crystalline relief.... His latest polished literary foray into a bygone era is just as imaginative and unforgettable historical portrait.

(Starred review.) Count Alexander Rostov...lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity..... A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use these LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for The Gentleman in Moscow...then take off on your own:

1. Start with the Count. How would you describe him? Do you find him an appealing, even memorable character?

2. In what way does his gilded cage, his "prison" for decades, transform Count Rostov? How do you see him changing during the course of the novel? What incidents have the most profound effect on him? Consider the incident with the beehive and the honey.

3. The Metropol serves literally and symbolically as a window on the world. What picture does Amor Towles paint of the Soviet Union—the brutality, its Kafka-esque bureaucracy, and the fear it inspires among its citizens? What are the pressures, for instance, faced by those who both live in and visit the Metropol? Does Towles's dark portrait overwhelm the story's narrative?

4. Talk about Nina, who even Towles considers the Eloise of the Metropol. Nina helps the Count unlock the hotel (again, literally and symbolically), revealing a much richer place than the it first seemed. What do we, along with the Count, discover?

5. What might Casablanca be the Count's favorite film? What does it suggest about his situation?

6. Talk about the other characters, aside from Nina, who play an important part in this novel the handyman, the actress, his friend Mishka, and even Osip Glebnikov. Consider the incident with the honey.

7. The Count was imprisoned for writing the poem, "where is it now?", which questioned the purpose of the new Soviet Union. Care to make any comparisons now with Russia under Putin, 70-some years later?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020