Justifiably, “A Gentleman In Moscow” has been recommended to me by dozens of library patrons over the past couple of years. It has had its place on numerous bestsellers and best-books-of-the-year lists. Kirkus Reviews describes the novel as “A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles’ stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).” I came to “A Gentleman In Moscow” after reading “Rules of Civility” at the end of last year and like Kirkus, found Amor Towles to be an incredibly promising writer.
“A Gentleman In Moscow” is the story of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, former poet now under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Russia. It reads like a classic, which this book very well could become, with its rich descriptions of place and social customs of the time, and witty dialogue.
Towles waxes poetic throughout the novel, aptly so considering our protagonist is a renowned poet. He creates heartwarming scenes shared between characters who at times philosophize on the subject of the human condition. They raise questions like, Why is it that as adults we can feel that the walls are closing in around us, while in the same space a child’s sense of wonder seems to make the walls expand the more they explore? Or, How can we recognize that each of our decisions – no matter how small they may seem at the time – leads us to the larger, most impactful and memorable times of our lives?
There is the right amount of Russian history and culture woven into this fictitious story, enough to transport the reader to Russia’s largest city and feel oriented in the goings-on of the time, but not so much to interrupt the story-line. We can see droshkies rambling down Arbat Street as we hear the bells of Ascension Church at midnight; we taste the various soups, from okroshka to Latvian stew, Eastern European kotlety, and zavitushki for dessert. We are reminded that vodka is not the only drink of choice by Russians. Our perspective of the characters’ lives is aided by inclusion of important historical events for the country, including Stalin’s death in 1953.
For those who have read “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, this book takes a similar approach of using Russia’s history and culture to enhance the narrative. Like Tolstoy, Towles references others Russian works of art in this story, including writings by Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anton Chekhov, and music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Links to these works that are mentioned in the book are below.
Have you read the book? If so, consider joining me for Minot-Sleeper Library’s Third Monday book group discussion (this month held on the fourth Monday) on Monday, January 25 at 10am. We will meet online using Zoom. Email me for information on how to join at email@example.com.
Want more? Below are published works by Russian authors and a composer referenced in “A Gentleman In Moscow,” books about Russia available to borrow at the Minot-Sleeper Library, and interviews with the author.
Authors and composer referenced in “A Gentleman in Moscow”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3137322.Fyodor_Dostoyevsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pyotr-Ilyich-Tchaikovsky
Books on Russia or by Russian authors available at Minot-Sleeper Library
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=4179
The Lost Pianos of Siberia: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=23887
Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=4787
A time to die: the untold story of the Kursk tragedy: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=3615
Between two fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=23251
The Invention of Russia: from Gorbachev’s freedom to Putin’s war: https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=18126
Find more at https://minotsleeper.nhais.bywatersolutions.com/
Interviews with Amor Towles, author of “A Gentleman in Moscow”
Amor Towles answers questions about “A Gentleman In Moscow” on his website: http://www.amortowles.com/gentleman-moscow-amor-towles/gentleman-moscow-qa-amor-towles/
Up next: “A Sand County Almanac: And sketches here and there” by Aldo Leopold. This book is the first of the new Regenerative Reads Book Group, a partnership between Minot-Sleeper Library and Bristol’s Sustainability Committee. The book will be discussed over three months. The first discussion on Part I of the book will be held Monday, January 25 at 6:30pm on Zoom. Copies of the book are available at the library and can be requested by calling 603-744-3352 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Already have a copy or read the book years ago, and wish to take part in the talk about the book? Email me at email@example.com. We would love to have you join us for the discussion on Zoom!