BOOK REVIEW: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

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I knew I was in love with Amor Towles’ writing when, in the opening pages of his novel A Gentleman In Moscow, he referred to a pigeon as having a “decidedly proprietary air.”

This was the first of hundreds of lovely turns of phrase and literary delights to unfold over the course of the nearly 500 page novel about a man’s life within the walls of a famed Russian hotel. With the humour, curiosity and surprising depth of a Wes Andersen film, Towles has penned a masterpiece about parenthood, redemption, and love for ones’ country. A Gentleman In Moscow has joined the ranks of my favourite books of all time, and I’m about to tell you why.

In the 1920s, 30-year-old Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to live the rest of his life under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. His crime? Being an unrepentant aristocrat. Over the remaining decades of his life, the Count befriends a series of peculiar and charming hotel workers and visitors who fill his small world with light, laughter, and adventure. Despite his restricted reality, Count Rostov comes to realize life is not about the amount of space within which one can move around, but rather how one fills the space he is given in life.

Should you feel slightly deterred by the premise, know that the limited setting in which Towles must work does not hinder his ability to pepper the novel with gun fights, spying, blackmail, thievery, incredible cuisine, deep friendship, beautiful romance, an adept mixologist, a goose being thrown out a window, and a man who has befriended a hive of bees.

“There was Andrey with his perfect poise and long judicious hands, Vasily, the hotel’s inimitable concierge; and Marina, the shy delight with the wandering eye who had recently been promoted from chambermaid to seamstress.”

- Amor Towles, A Gentleman In Moscow

The list of strengths I could write up for this novel would go on and on: the beautiful writing, the incredible characters, the vibrant setting and witty humour. Count Rostov is a main character every reader will be able to root for. His charm and wit are matched by his kindness and adaptability, and as he ages throughout the story he becomes only more relatable and endearing. His punishment never truly feels like a sentence because he is able to make the most of it and see the light in his bleak situation.

A Gentleman In Moscow covers decades of complicated Russian history, and Towles navigates the polarizing political context with grace. He explores the Counts’ deep connection to his homeland and perfectly demonstrates how a man can still love a country that has wronged him. Readers will be pleased to see references to important Russian figures they recognize, but will also come away with new knowledge and understanding, and perhaps even a newly sparked interest in the history of a country that has been frequently misunderstood.

While I could continue to write for many hours about the beauty of this novel, I think it is best to end my review by simply letting Mr. Towles writing speak for itself:

“For what matters 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.”

- Amor Towles, A Gentleman In Moscow