- File Size: 3480 KB
- Print Length: 466 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (September 6, 2016)
- Publication Date: September 6, 2016
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01COJUEZ0
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel Kindle Edition
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"If you're looking for a summer novel, this is it. Beautifully written, a story of a Russian aristocrat trapped in Moscow during the tumult of the 1930s. It brims with intelligence, erudition, and insight, an old-fashioned novel in the best sense of the term." —Fareed Zakaria, "Global Public Square," CNN
"Fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat . . . A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you would be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story.” —Bill Gates
“The book is like a salve. I think the world feels disordered right now. The count’s refinement and genteel nature are exactly what we’re longing for.” —Ann Patchett
“How delightful that in an era as crude as ours this finely composed novel stretches out with old-World elegance.” —The Washington Post
“The novel buzzes with the energy of numerous adventures, love affairs, twists of fate and silly antics.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A winning, stylish novel.”
“The perfect book to curl up with while the world goes by outside your window.”
“Who will save Rostov from the intrusions of state if not the seamstresses, chefs, bartenders and doormen? In the end, Towles’s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of these peripheral workers, over the course of decades, into confidants, equals and, finally, friends. With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“This is an old fashioned sort of romance, filled with delicious detail. Save this precious book for times you really, really want to escape reality.”
“Towles gets good mileage from the considerable charm of his protagonist and the peculiar world he inhabits.”
—The New Yorker
“Irresistible . . . In his second elegant period piece, Towles continues to explore the question of how a person can lead an authentic life in a time when mere survival is a feat in itself . . . Towles’s tale, as lavishly filigreed as a Fabergé egg, gleams with nostalgia for the golden age of Tolstoy and Turgenev.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘Eloise’ meets all the Bond villains.”
“And the intrigue! . . . [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery . . . a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility, shapes [A Gentleman in Moscow].”
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“With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.”
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“[A] wonderful debut novel.”
—The Chicago Tribune
“Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”
“A book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
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As literature, I found plot too predictable and the characters not believable.
Despite a setting steeped in history, the story line and characters seems to be untouched by the atrocities that happened all around the country and the world, and out of touch with the realities around them. It paints communism as silly instead of diabolical, and the nobility as innocent victims instead of feckless. The author may not have intended to write historical fiction, but many reviewers comment about how much they learned about Russian history. This is unfortunate. If you’re intrigued about life in Russia under Stalin, please consider Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler.
In addition to historical misrepresentations, there are multiple scientific ones as well. For example, on page 354, the Count describes the temperature of the water in the ice bucket as 50 degrees. Let’s assume Fahrenheit. If the bucket contained any ice at all, the temperature could not have been more than 32 degrees.
People read books for many reasons. I categorize books I’ve read as the following:
1 - Books that change my life
2 - Books from which I learned something
3 - Books that entertain me
4 - Books that wasted my time because they did too little of 1, 2, or 3 for the time invested
I don’t think this a bad book, but for myself personally, I would rate this book a 4. There are too many good books out there and too precious little time.
A Gentleman in Moscow is the 30-year saga of the Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is placed under house arrest inside the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922 when the Bolsheviks spare him from death or Siberia because of his 1913 revolutionary poem written in university. The relationships he forms with staff and guests, his handling of twists of fate, his moral rectitude and his perseverance to go on in the face of his lifelong imprisonment for being a Former Person make for a compelling tale, told beautifully by Towles. It is not overwritten, and provides just enough historical contexts without being burdensome. And Towles doesn’t overdo the use of the Russian diminutive, which I’ve found in Russian classics to be crazy making and require a scorecard. Towles gives the reader just enough background of his characters. We know them but still wonder; he’s left room for the reader. The story unfolds so wonderfully that I don’t want to give away more of the plot.
I literally sat and stared into space for an hour after I finished A Gentleman In Moscow, contemplating it and wishing it hadn’t ended.
I may just have to re-read it.
Top international reviews
This is the story of the elegant Count Alexander Rostov who, in 1922 at the age of 33, is brought before a Bolshevik tribunal in Moscow. Condemned on the grounds of being an unrepentant aristocrat, he is saved from the firing squad by virtue of a youthful poem whose sentiments chime with the revolutionary desire for change. Instead of death, he is condemned to lifelong house arrest in his current place of residence: the Metropol Hotel. Removed from his suite and banished to a tiny room in the attics, the Count finds that his material circumstances have been much reduced, but he’s a philosopher at heart and faces his change in fortunes with one resolve: to master his life before his life masters him. And thus we see this wise, gracious gentleman learning to cut his cloth to its new measure. He turns his eyes away from the lilacs in the Alexander Gardens, forgets the glamour of his accustomed seat at the Bolshoi and learns to do without the delicate pastries of Filippov’s. Instead he finds a new subject for his examination: mankind.
The story is leavened by moments of absurdity and shot through with quiet heartbreak, like a perfectly pitched symphony. Towles is thoughtful but never sentimental; heartwarming but never sickly; and bittersweet but never bitter. The difficulty is that one can’t explain why something is beautiful. If you asked me to explain why a painting or an aria or a poem was beautiful, I couldn’t do it. All I can say is that it is. And it’s the same here. Like any fine artwork, the story is perfectly balanced, and both reflects and transcends its time. We may not step outside the Metropol but, like the Count, we can watch the vagaries of Fortune as they blow in through the revolving doors, and study the metamorphosis of Bolshevism. Despite its weighty underlying themes, the story itself is designed with such care that it seems to sparkle, suspended, with an air of sprezzatura.
I feel privileged to have spent this time in the company of Count Rostov – or, as I feel I almost have the right to call him, Sasha. This novel is joining the select ranks of my comfort books, and I’ll certainly be reading it again. In the meantime, all I can do is recommend it heartily to you as perfect material for a winter’s night curled in a blanket against the bitter cold outside. At a time when sincerity, tolerance and compassion are in short supply in the world around us, I’m delighted to discover that here these virtues become the very touchstones which enable a remarkable protagonist to weather the perils of a changing existence. A wonderful, heartwarming book.
To read the full review, please visit my blog.
This largely sums up my association with this book. I've read this book curled up in my bed with a mug of hot-chocolate, between business meetings in order to cleanse my mind of the mundane and predictable, in the garden while sitting comfortably on a swing, and this morning at 3 am where I finished the final 150 pages, just as Apollo began his majestic journey across the horizon. And in the end my opinion is that this book is perhaps one of the most emotionally, linguistically and intellectually stimulating pieces of literature that I have had the good fortune to come across.
The story of Count Alexander Rostov and his extended stay at The Hotel Metropol reveals to us that life is never something that can slip you by, provided you are willing to adapt. The Count makes it his business to master his circumstances the only way he knows how. With poise, dignity and impeccable taste. Over the course of his more than 30yrs. stay at the hotel, we see this Gentleman as a Noble, as a Commoner, as a Father, a Spy and finally a Man. He exemplifies an amalgam of the great wanderers of the past, like Odysseus and Crusoe who found themselves trapped in unforeseen circumstances, and emerge from the experience bearing a new clarity with regards to the concept of a 'home'.
I have not been so moved and entertained by vocabulary since P.G. Wodehouse, and indeed there is a great deal of the Wodehousian humor, mirth and mayhem in the corridors of the Metropol. There are times when one feels lost, especially when faced with historical contexts and characters that are introduced in page 50 and then intricately woven into the scene at page 276, however, like the great wanderers we arrive at a new destination just as we feel that we are doomed to wander aimlessly.
Another example. In the early 1920s when the protagonist of the book ate different pastries in a trendy pastry shop in Moscow and spoke with a daughter of a Comissar, there was a civil war in Russia and a great famine, because the war interrupted the normal agricultural works. People in Moscow had difficulties in buying the bread, let alone pastries.
Every page of this book is full of these kind of mistakes. I cannot take this book or this story seriously. It has nothing to do with the real Russia or Russian history or Russian culture. It only reflects the ignorance of this writer who never tried to learn something about the subject he writes about.
All focusses on the central character, Count Rostov, half rogue but with a tremendous generosity of spirit. We witness him during a period of some thirty years. The man changes as does Russia, as the death of Stalin gives way to the brutish, volatility of Khrushchev. We are not protected from the horrors of post revolution Russia/USSR: the famines, the gulags, the ever-present informers and watchfulness, the shortages of staple goods, all sacrificed on the altar of an ideology of modernisation.
We see Alexander Rostov in a variety of roles: as aristocrat in manners, as a key member of the triumvirate that runs the practical life of the Hotel Metropole, as surrogate father twice, and as a man who in his own terms comes to age if not disgracefully, at least with style, as he adapts to a world that has been alien to him. Yes, there are a few incongruities and loose ends, but overall the book is sustained by a positive outlook in the face of everyday threats. His relationships with two key party members – “the bishop”, and the notably more significant Colonel Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, provide yet another dimension to the historical scenario and to the novel.
A significant book and a delightful experience.
This was made somewhat easier for him since the staff of the hotel continued to honour him and to address him as “Your Excellency” (an order to stop using such honorifics had been ignored), and since he was able to receive visitors and to send people out to deliver letters and make purchases for him. He spends 34 years in the hotel, and in due course became head waiter in its most luxurious dining room and, with the chef and the maître d’hôtel, formed a triumvirate to plan the still top-rate menus. For, during that time, the Metropol retained its splendour, was visited by foreign diplomats and journalists, and, whatever might have been happening in the Soviet Union, continued impeccably to serve exquisitely prepared dishes, wines and liqueurs. These figure prominently throughout the novel, as do the restaurants and bars, the chefs, waiters and bar-tenders of the hotel.
At one point, the Bolsheviks decided that the wine connoisseurship (in which the Count was an expert) was an example of bourgeois decadence; so they had ordered that the labels on all the bottles of the Metropol’s famous wine-cellar be removed, and that all wines were to be sold at the same price. The order was later revoked, after the French ambassador could not be served with the wine of his choice. (The book does not relate how it was possible to re-label the unlabelled bottles.)
Of the other characters in the novel, the two most important ones are two women with whom the Count becomes involved. The first is Nina, a resident in the hotel whom we initially meet as a pert eleven-year old, and with whom the Count develops an affectionate relationship. He sees her, off and on, for many years, while Nina grew up, married, and had a six year old daughter Sofia. But in 1938, during the Terror, her husband was sentenced to five years collective labour in the Far East. Nina was going to follow him there, to find work near-by; but she begged the Count to look after the little girl in the Metropol until Nina had found a job and could come back to collect her daughter. It is touching how the now 48-year old Count coped with the earnest little girl in his cramped quarters and arranged for some female staff of the hotel to look after her while he was at work. Like her mother, Sofia had an extensive knowledge of the labyrinthine geography of the hotel, and this plays a significant part in the novel. Nina vanishes from the narrative and never came back to collect Sofia; and the Count came to regard Sofia as his daughter; and she came to call him Papa. This relationship, too, lasted for many years. Sofia became a brilliant pianist, went to the Moscow Conservatoire, and in 1954 was chosen to go abroad on a European tour, including Paris, with the Conservatoire’s orchestra.
What is so strange about the book is that the violence of the Bolshevik regime had relatively little impact on the story, and the war with Germany none at all. True, the manager of the hotel was in due course replaced by a sinister government agent; the order was given not to address the Count by his honorifics (but was only partially observed); we have seen Nina’s husband sent to Siberia (no reason given), and a friend of the Count’s suffered a similar fate for some years because he had protested at the excision of a paragraph from a collection of Chekhov’s letters which he was editing; a film actress, with whom the Count had an affaire temporarily lost her job because Stalin objected to the films in which she appeared (but she was soon able to resume her acting career). Even so, these incidents are a small part of the story.
Many of the Count’s encounters with old and new acquaintances are rather inconsequential: their main significance seems to be that they trigger the Count to reminisce about the past. There are, as throughout the novel, reflections about philosophy, literature, things that change and things that do not, the kind of country Russia is and has been. Other incidents – one involving geese - don’t go anywhere at all, and I wondered why they had been included.
The departure in 1954 of Sofia for Paris at last jerks the Count out of his passive acceptance of his house-arrest. He behaves in a way very uncharacteristic of him. The book ends with dramatic scenes and in Paris and in Moscow which I found as unbelievable as I found many other aspects of the novel. And the final few pages I found totally enigmatic.
So, though I found the 480 pages very readable, I found it, on the whole, unsatisfying.