A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This was a book club pick, and as I hadn’t finished the last four books we read (oops), I was determined to finish this one.
Description (from Amazon)
“In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and 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 entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”
The Count, as he’s often referred to, is the kind of man everyone wants to befriend, but nobody would want to parent. One can tell that his youth was filled with mischief, and not even gray hair and joints that no longer like the Metropol stairs can dampen that spirit. What I liked most about him was that, though formerly an aristocrat, he treats everyone the same—from the barber to the seamstress to the hotel’s waiters, whose ranks he eventually joins. Seeing the Count adapt to his ever-changing circumstances was inspiring.
The plot meanders through many seemingly pointless side trips as the tumultuous events in the outside world impact the microcosm of the hotel. Eventually, the author tied these things together, giving them purpose within the broader storyline, but it demanded patience from the reader. I must confess that I almost didn’t finish. The plot is not well suited for the modern attention span, and the points it made were too subtle for a distracted reader.
The author’s writing style is really the only reason I kept reading. His prose is gorgeous, with creative descriptions that bring the story to life. The reader truly gets a feel for life in the Metropol.
Another strength of this book was the myriad of philosophical reflections sprinkled throughout the story. However, I was often too bogged down by the seemingly pointless side stories to appreciate them. Many of the more dramatic implications of the oppressive Russian regime were so subtly depicted that I nearly missed them.
If I were a generation older, I think I may have enjoyed this book more. As is, the subtle philosophy and meandering plot are not well suited to readers accustomed to the instant gratification offered by modern technology. This book is beautifully written, and it tells an inspiring story of resilience and resistance. I really want to love this book, but the best I can say is that I don’t regret finishing it, even if it took a bout of insomnia binge-reading to do it.
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