A Gentleman in Moscow

A novel by Amor Towles


“After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. 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.”

I borrowed this book over the summer. What interested me the most was the setting and time period, as I wanted to read more stories set in Russia.

In this book, we follow Count Alexander Rostov who, in 1922, is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal. He is then sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest in the Hotel Metropol of Moscow, where he remains whilst some of the 'most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors.'

On few occasions have I picked up and read books that have consistently remained so engaging and so enjoyable to read. I really, really enjoyed this book.

I found the characters to be very charming and well-written, including the protagonist, who was an absolute joy to learn about and spend time with throughout the novel; it was surprisingly funny, in a witty kind of way, that had me laughing out loud on several occasions; the setting was wonderfully described and chosen and the writing was a pleasure to read.

I do feel that the best facet of this story was its characters. The book also takes time to ruminate on and explore friendship, parenthood and several other things in what I found to be a beautiful and very meaningful way.

Many of the characters, together, seemed and felt like a family to me, and I found that to be lovely. The protagonist is also one of the most memorable I think I have come across.

I was initially worried that this book would grow dull due to its premise and its length, and that it would inevitably drag a little. After all, it's not an easy task to make a story of confinement within one setting feel so fascinating and mesmerising. However, it did not drag at all. It remained completely and utterly engaging and delightful.

Seeing how the protagonist tried to 'master his circumstances', how he interacted with others who visited the hotel and how he lived out his life and attempted to make the most of it despite being confined to one building was fascinating, and I loved this premise.

“If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

I am very glad I decided to pick this book up, and I will likely be checking out Rules of Civility by Amor Towles at some point. A Gentleman in Moscow was an absolute joy to read that was not just beautiful, but also funny, clever and sad, sometimes all at once, and I recommend it.

“...what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”