I’m drawn to historical fiction and since A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is one of the few historical books on the discount bookshelf, I naturally picked it up hoping for a good read as I learn a few things about Russia. Granted, my Russian friend and coworker, Yuriy, quickly pointed out to me that I should not look to learn about Russia from a fictional book especially when it’s not written by someone with a Russian background. That, of course, did not stop me from asking him to clarify some of my newfound “knowledge” about Russia afterward.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a historical fiction that narrates the life of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. The story takes place after the Russia Revolution where the Count is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest at Moscow’s Metropol Hotel for writing a counter-revolutionary poem. The story then follows the Count to see how he’s able to navigate the different challenges one can have being confined to one location.
Moscow’s Metropol Hotel is a real historic hotel known for being the largest extant Moscow hotel built before the Russian Revolution. The hotel was designed to be a cultural center with facilities such as a theatre and indoor stadiums. It was one of the most luxurious hotels at the beginning of the 20th century and often attracted wealthy and governmental figures.
Even though there might not be a better hotel one would want to get sentenced to house arrest at the time, a story centered on a protagonist’s life at a hotel for over 30 years can easily turn out to be dull. This story, however, works due to the character development of Count Rostov.
The Count is a know it all and the ultimate gentleman. He’s extremely well mannered and at the same time witty. He always knows what’s the best dish to order and the best wine to go with it. As he’s trying to master his newfound predicament, a little girl aged around 7, Nina, befriended him at his table during dinner one night. Nina would then explore the hotel with the Count and later bring him one of the most profound moments of his life.
Amor Towles is an American investment professional turned novelist best known for his novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. You can tell from his novel how descriptive and detail-oriented he is. 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.” This is just an example of how masterful Amor Towles is at using descriptions to help us understand and connect with the characters.
I find Amor Towles’s writing style as a contrast to Stephen King’s. Whereas Stephen King writes with a more concise style, Amor Towles is more descriptive with his words. Often times I find myself immersed in how Amor Towles is able to describe certain mundane details to enrich our connections with the characters but at times I also found certain details unnecessarily elaborated. All in all, this is a book that I enjoyed reading which I learned something out of.
Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
I’m currently reading Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.