A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

L: 9/10

M: 9/10

J: 10/10

Analysis from a Web-MD diagnosis that actually rings true, promising swift death by cancer through everything you’ve ever touched or consumed:

I recently took a trip to Ann Arbor with a good friend (J) to one of my favorite places in the world, a book store called Literati in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The store had been closed for the pandemic a little longer than everything else in town, and I am more than pleased that it found a way to survive the troubling times. Walking around the store and looking at all the shiny covers, reading the thoroughly crafted employee-written synopses for recommendations, and taking a plethora of notes down for future book selections, I was reminded of the sheer amount of unread books lying in wait. I was in serious need of reading a new book that brought back that warm fuzzy feeling, one that can only be accomplished by falling in love with a new book.

A Gentleman in Moscow ticked that box. I keep picking books that I already read, wanting to share the experience with friends, and it felt like an eternity since a real winner was chosen. This book was unlike anything else I’ve ever read; a lot of that has to do with every sentence’s craftsmanship. The way that Amor Towles unweaves this story is a work of art. Such detail is put into each character and scene, making an otherwise unnoteworthy instance rich and colorful and seem ever so important.

The story is about a Count (still, none of us really know what that is or means) who gets placed under house arrest in a famous Motel. Through standing up for his sister and achieving justice for a devious wrongdoing, he had a part in a man’s death, and Russia, being a strange and wild place in the early 1900s, sentenced him to house arrest. The Count already lived in a decadent Motel, the Metropol, but now he could never leave. His lush suite was also replaced for a closet-sized servant room on the top floor, and his whereabouts always accounted for, but otherwise, life would go on as usual.

The story details the second half of his life, as he finds a way to make do with his strange circumstances. He makes friends with the patrons, most notably a young girl named Nina, whom he bonds with and is shown life through a new perspective. Generations jump as time speeds by, with Russia building and falling outside the revolving doors of the Metropol.

His fateful relationship with Nina comes back in the form of a daughter who needed a home, and suddenly the Count’s life changes when he becomes the apparent father to young Sofia. Now the head waiter at the motel’s famous restaurant, his preformed ways of life must become adjusted once more, this time to care for another. 

He also finds love in Anna, an actress who uses the motel to try and find work as her star power begins to fade. Anyone who the Count crosses path with is put under his spell. His conversation skills and unique personality prove impossible to resist. Well, nearly possible, as the Motels manager becomes the one spur in the stories side. That, along with the dangerous Russian landscape that could put a bullet in anyone’s head at any time.

The last quarter of the book really changes tone when Sofia develops into a marvelous pianist. Her skills are quickly noted, and the State essentially steps in to whisk her and her talents away. The Count springs into action, pooling all his resources, both financial and friends he’s pooled along the way, and hashing out a plan to unchain both he and his daughter from the shackles of Mother Russia.

I am enamored with Amor Toles, never before hearing his name or this book. He doesn’t have many books, but there are several to explore sooner than later. I am interested to see if his style is the Count or that he was just so good in writing the dialog and the scenery that he transformed into the character. 

Analysis from a woman past her prime and dangling from her own last nerve:

There is not a single part of this book that I didn’t enjoy. I’m not sure if us taking our time reading it meant that I was never bored or overwhelmed by the story, but it was always a pleasure to come back to it.

I don’t know that I have ever heard of this author before this book, but I intend to look more into him. The writing style is easy and charming. His characters are all very well developed, and I never felt as if he left me hanging or started a plotline only to abandon it somewhere along the way. I feel that there is a charm in his writing style that is stern and disciplined but softens to the reader, so you feel special and included when you see the loveliness of the characters. I’m not sure that makes sense. His writing made me feel like I was invited into a secret club, and I like being special, so I was totally on board!

I often struggle with the endings of books because, all too often, they seem to wrap up into a nice little package in the last few pages. Amor Towles is a writer who delivers you a full plate, so you leave feeling a little overstuffed. He’s also kind of sexy as hell. So ya know, win/win.

Analysis from a wild goose in a hotel hallway:

When starting this book, I felt like there could have been a large banner above it that said, “Welcome home!” I am a huge fan of historical fiction novels. A major reason I joined this book club, apart from having an excuse to enjoy L and M’s witty conversation, was to broaden my repertoire of genres. I was stuck in a rut of junior fiction, historical fiction, and dystopian. Wash, rinse, repeat. After having sampled a few rounds of their reading selections, I thought it would be an interesting change of pace to introduce a familiar style (of mine) to our reading list.

This book was originally recommended to me by a friend whose opinion I value pretty greatly as we have shared the love of many common books. It is sometimes with trepidation that I read books that people rave about, but that tends to be when it is the “it” book of the time. I had not heard of A Gentleman in Moscow outside of my friend imploring me to read it, and I honestly didn’t put much research into finding a summary prior to reading. My friend did not disappoint.

I can’t say that there was a single part of this story that disappointed me. Even the slower-paced parts were written with such concise yet perfect attention to detail that it didn’t feel like it was just filling pages. I found the Count so endearing in that he didn’t let his world get small even though his access to it was withdrawn. He made the best of it and opened a full, rich world for himself in the hotel. He didn’t let his circumstances change him.

What struck me is that this book is really, too, about the world that friends can open up to you. Befriending a little girl, the hotel staff, traveling diplomats, and maintaining relationships with old friends helped him keep his purpose. Despite not enjoying the pursuit of the minute hand, the Count kept his life full by preserving relationships with people, whether they were able to be with him or were gone from his life. I saw myself in him that way, and it was very comforting.

It is with the highest praise that I recommend this book. The only time that I didn’t want to pick it up was at the end because I was not ready for it to be done yet. I didn’t have to take time to mourn it once I had finished (as I have done with many books when I have the loss of them in my life) because it was such a complete, beautiful story.

Bonus content: While I loved the book as a whole, one of my favorite parts was found on page 337, last paragraph. Such a glorious over-simplification of the story in its entirety.

Amor Towles

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