Review by Jill Hedgecock
Program Coordinator, Mount Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club
A secret key, a young girl’s curiosity, and a man under house arrest lead to an unlikely pair sleuthing through the bowels of a Russian hotel. These elements make A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016, Viking, hardcover, 480 pages, $16.20) an intriguing premise. Towles’ inclusion of Russian history further lay the groundwork for an epic reading experience. It is a lengthy tome spanning three decades and requires readers to pay careful attention. Rest assured, it’s worth the effort. According to Towles, “Bit characters, passing remarks, incidental objects come swirling together and play essential roles in bringing the narrative to its sharply pointed conclusion.”
Count Alexander Rostov is an aristocrat survivor of the bloody aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Although spared death, he must live within the confines of the Metropol Hotel, situated near the Kremlin. While all the characters in the book are imagined, the Metropol is based on an existing historic hotel located in central Moscow. In addition to its intriguing setting and main character, Towles infuses the story with a compelling supporting cast. In contrast to the stiff, yet genteel, Rostov, movie star, Anna Urbanova, and her two borzois, bring levity and glamour to lighten the pages. Anna also brings romance into housebound Rostov’s life. Equally compelling are Rustov’s male friendships from the ne’er-do-well American vending machine salesman to Mishka, Rostov’s boyhood chum provide insights into the extent of Rostov’s charm. When young Sophia enters his life, Rostov is jolted from his comfortable routines as he embraces fatherly responsibilities. Of course, no good book is without its villain and the incompetent waiter, Bishop Leplevshy with his antagonistic personality and a penchant for snooping into Rostov’s affairs, fills that literary role quite well. Like many accomplished novelists, Towles interweaves elements of other great creative works into his story—in this case, the movie, Casablanca. The book also has an inherent quirkiness to its structure. All of the chapter titles begin with the letter “A.”
A Gentleman in Moscow is a New York Times bestseller and was ranked as one of the best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and others. Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and ranked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. Both of Towles’ novels have been translated into over fifteen languages. This hefty read is the perfect book to escape into on a cold, rainy January day.