A Gentleman in Moscow
|Audio read by||Nicholas Guy Smith|
|Set in||Moscow during the Stalin era|
|6 September 2016|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3620.O945 G46 2016|
The protagonist is the fictional Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 24 October 1889. He was raised on his Rostov family's estate "Idlehour" in Nizhny Novgorod. Rostov's godfather was his father's comrade in the cavalry, Grand Duke Demidov. When the Count's parents died of cholera within hours of each other in 1900, Grand Duke Demidov became the 11-year-old's guardian. Demidov counseled him to be strong for his sister Helena, because "...adversity presents itself in many forms, and if a man does not master his circumstances, then he is bound to be mastered by them." The Rostov siblings are aristocrats, making social visits to nearby estates by horse-drawn troika or sleigh.
As a young man, the Count was sent out of the country (as was the custom at the time) by his grandmother for wounding Helena's suitor, a cad who broke her heart. Upon returning home from Paris after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Count was arrested.
Inspiration and plot
Towles's inspiration for the novel was his experience staying at luxury hotels, specifically, a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, where some guests were permanent residents. He combined the idea of luxury hotels with his knowledge of Russia's long-time historical tradition of house arrest.
The Count is charged as a social parasite before a Bolshevik tribunal, with the expectation that he will be found guilty and shot. He is unrepentant, and eloquently refuses to confess. Because of a revolutionary poem attributed to him, the Count is spared a death sentence. Instead, he is placed under house arrest for life at his current residence, the Hotel Metropol in central Moscow.
A military guard escorts the Count back to the Hotel Metropol, where he is ordered to vacate his luxurious suite and move to the cramped servant's quarters on the sixth floor. As time goes on, the Count cultivates a social circle of friends from his youth as well as selected residents, staff, and customers of the Hotel and its restaurants. These include a one-eyed cat, a young girl, a seamstress, a Russian chef, a French maître d'hotel and former circus juggler, a poet, an actress, an underemployed architect, an orchestra conductor, a prince, a former Red Army colonel, and an aide-de-camp of an American general.
Due to his diminished circumstances and restricted freedom, the Count has time for self-reflection. He is a brilliant conversationalist, readily discussing diverse subjects such as evolution, philosophy, Impressionism, Russian writers and poetry, food, post-revolutionary Russian society, and Russia's contributions to the world.
An early acquaintance at the hotel is nine-year-old Nina Kulikova, the daughter of a widowed Ukrainian bureaucrat, who is fascinated by princesses.
In 1938, an unexpected arrival changes the Count's circumstances. Nina Kulikova, now a married woman, visits the Count. She confides that her husband Leo was arrested and sentenced to five years of forced labor by the Gulag. Nina decides to follow her husband to Sevvostlag in Kolyma, a remote region of the Soviet Union bounded by the East Siberian Sea and the Arctic Ocean. She begs the Count to accept temporary custody of her young daughter Sofia, while she makes arrangements for the child to join her in Siberia to be near her father. This is the last time the Count sees Nina, so at the age of 49, he becomes Sofia's surrogate father.
Sofia is a quiet, highly intelligent child. Her potential manifests itself during games of hide-and-seek that she wins in record time.
Later, Sofia takes piano lessons. She surprises the Count by playing a Chopin nocturne (Opus 9, number 2, in E-flat major) after only a few lessons. It is clear to both the piano teacher and the Count that Sofia is a musical prodigy.
Towles's approach in A Gentleman in Moscow was described as a "gorgeous sleight of hand" by The New York Times:
What saves the book is the gorgeous sleight of hand that draws it to a satisfying end, and the way he chooses themes that run deeper than mere sociopolitical commentary: parental duty, friendship, romance, the call of home. Human beings, after all, 'deserve not only our consideration but our reconsideration' – even those from the leisured class. Who will save Rostov from the intrusions of the 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 free transformation of these peripheral workers, over 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.
Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. This book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility." NPR opined that "A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel that aims to charm ... and the result is winning, stylish ... Flair is always the goal – Towles never lets anyone merely say goodbye when they could bid adieu, never puts a period where an exclamation point or dramatic ellipsis could stand." At Book Marks, a review aggregator website, the novel received a cumulative "Positive" rating based on 11 reviews: 3 "Rave", 5 "Positive", and 3 "Mixed". Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall recommended the book to those in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), p. 18.
- Neary, Lynn (2016-09-06). "Idea For 'Gentleman In Moscow' Came From Many Nights In Luxury Hotels". NPR.
- Taylor, Craig (2016-09-23). "A Count Becomes a Waiter in a Novel of Soviet Supremacy". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
- Daskal, Victoria (5 October 2021). "A Gentleman in Moscow's Wine". www.mummywineclub.com. Archived from the original on 2021-10-05. Retrieved 2021-10-05.
- Kirkus Reviews (21 June 2016). "A Gentleman In Moscow". Kirkus Reviews Online. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
- Quinn, Annalisa (2016-09-03). "'A Gentleman In Moscow' Is A Grand Hotel Adventure". npr.org. Retrieved 2019-06-30.
- "Book Marks reviews of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles". Book Marks. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
- "The Duchess of Cornwall shares a reading list | Prince of Wales". www.princeofwales.gov.uk. Retrieved 2022-03-03.
- Kirkus Reviews. "2016 Winners". Kirkus Reviews Online Online. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
- Dublin Literary Award. "The Nominees". International Dublin Literary Award. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
- Rubins, Jennifer (27 March 2019). "A Gentleman in the Audiobook Studio: Nicholas Guy Smith on Narrating A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles". Penguin Random House Audio. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
- "A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles Read by Nicholas Guy Smith | Audiobook Review". AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 2020-05-21.
- Lin, Jennifer Marie. "A Gentleman in Moscow TV Series: What We Know". Archived from the original on 2020-02-06. Retrieved 23 November 2020.