A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
★★★★★ — 99%
OH MY. I savored every minute I spent reading A Gentleman in Moscow. Frankly, I’d rather reread it than write a review. It wasn’t anything like the book I was expecting. It was sweeter, softer, wittier, and way, way classier.
Take a bow, Amor Towles. This was a masterpiece.
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.
“Who would have imagined when you were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia.”
Authentic. Beautiful. Intelligent. Heartwarming. Those are just a few words to describe the genius that is A Gentleman in Moscow. There are some books that can transport you into a different culture unusually well, some that can introduce an incredibly unique cast of characters with ease and precision, and some that can captivate you with witty, sparkling dialogue. It’s rare to find those all in one book. With A Gentleman in Moscow, that was exactly the case, and if you think I’m a screaming mess right now, YOU’D BE RIGHT. (I usually am, though, so don’t get a big head.) Amor Towles is a master storyteller, and reading A Gentleman in Moscow felt like a privilege. It also kind of was.
First thing, let me say: the writing literally shined. It was incredibly precise and nuanced, and I enjoyed (ridiculously enjoyed) the humor laced throughout the book. There was no amateur info-dumping either; everything unraveled precisely when it needed to. Nothing was added to the story solely for the sake of elegance or pretension. Every sentence was carefully crafted and WOW, when Amor Towles is hailed as a classic author in a hundred years, REMEMBER ME. I WAS RIGHT.
The world-building was also insanely good for the restrictions the plot set on it. Stuck in a hotel??? It doesn’t seem like there’s much to build on. But the Metropol hotel became a full-fledged world in itself…effortlessly. The descriptions were rich, but never felt like they were coming at me point-blank. They snuck in, and were good enough that I could tell you with ease every nook and cranny of this fabulous hotel in my imagination.
And oh, the characterization. It was some of the best I’ve ever read and ASDJFKLSD I just want to scream even MORE !! Towels found a way to give each character a distinct voice, a distinct personality, and distinct ticks. Each of them felt real, and for all I know, they were.
(Juuuust kidding, you don’t need to send me to a mental institution. I’m fine. I’M FINE!)
“By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
The plot here wasn’t complicated, but that’s not what Towles intended anyway. And that’s totally cool. The plot was very straightforward, and the story spanned over decades, so it’s natural that the pacing was slow and took its time. But strangely, it never felt too slow or like it was dragging; it was leisurely and relaxed.
As for dialogue, A Gentleman in Moscow’s belongs in the Dialogue Hall of Fame, as does literally everything about this book, YES. There was so much left to subtext and every part of my writing-loving self was FREAKING OUT over how good it was. The dialogue was the reason I picked up the book in the first place, and it’s what kept me going.
“I’ll tell you what is convenient . . . To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka—and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”
Dive in to this story as soon as you possibly can.
Language: Some mild profanity.
Violence: A man threatens to shoot someone and thinks about killing himself. A child is injured in the head and blood from the wound is mentioned. Light heavy stuff.
Sensuality: Two characters become lovers (yes ew), though detail is kept to a minimum, which makes everyone happy.
Substances: Of-age characters drink and get drunk.