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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Historical fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow

BOTY FINALIST

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to A Gentleman in Moscow!

by Amor Towles

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Quick take

This book's pleasures are in the details. It is layered with delicious, minute observation, so that you never want to skip over passages.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_International

    International

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

Synopsis

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.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

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Get an early look from the first pages of A Gentleman in Moscow.
A Gentleman in Moscow

21 June 1922

APPEARANCE OF COUNT ALEXANDER ILYICH ROSTOV BEFORE THE EMERGENCY COMMITTEE OF THE PEOPLE’S COMMISSARIAT FOR INTERNAL AFFAIRS

Presiding: Comrades V. A. Ignatov, M. S. Zakovsky, A. N. Kosarev

Prosecuting: A. Y. Vyshinsky

Prosecutor Vyshinsky: State your name.

Rostov: Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt.

Vyshinsky: You may have your titles; they are of no use to anyone else. But for the record, are you not Alexander Rostov, born in St. Petersburg, 24 October 1889?

Rostov: I am he.

Vyshinsky: Before we begin, I must say, I do not think that I have ever seen a jacket festooned with so many buttons.

Rostov: Thank you.

Vyshinsky: It was not meant as a compliment.

Rostov: In that case, I demand satisfaction on the field of honor.

[Laughter.]

Secretary Ignatov: Silence in the gallery.

Vyshinsky: What is your current address?

Rostov: Suite 317 at the Hotel Metropol, Moscow.

Vyshinsky: How long have you lived there?

Rostov: I have been in residence since the fifth of September 1918. Just under four years.

Vyshinsky: And your occupation?

Rostov: It is not the business of gentlemen to have occupations.

Vyshinsky: Very well then. How do you spend your time?

Rostov: Dining, discussing. Reading, reflecting. The usual rigmarole.

Vyshinsky: And you write poetry?

Rostov: I have been known to fence with a quill.

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Why I love it

I am a lover of 19th century Russian literature, which so often fused French glamour with the harsh reality of Siberian-style winters and encroaching revolution. You felt the warm glow of the gas lantern, the luxurious texture of the ball gown, the sting of the cold night air as the horse-drawn carriage carried weary passengers home in the wee hours, after the ball, and the call of history, and war.

A Gentleman in Moscow carries this lavish sensibility through to post-revolution Russia, as the new Soviet Government assumes power in 1922. Amor Towles (whose first novel is the sublime Rules of Civility), this time delivers a novel as richly filigreed as the set design of the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. And indeed, A Gentleman in Moscow takes place entirely within its own hotel grande dame, The Metropol. Our hero, Count Alexander Illyich Rostov has been sentenced to live out the rest of his life there by the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which had deemed aristocrats to be enemies of the people. Under threat of being shot if he as much as steps outside the walls of the Metropol, the debonair and irrepressible Count sets about recreating his life within this gentleman's prison, an effort that takes all of his boundless inventiveness and good humor. There is much to delight in—even laugh out loud at—in the Count's circumscribed adventures-but even he can't keep tragedy from encroaching.

While the story is, literally speaking, narrowly drawn, in overarching terms the book depicts Russian society making the painful transition from tsarist autocracy to Soviet communism. Everything and everyone is forced to change—not least Count Rostov. But this book's pleasures are in the details. What Count Rostov never loses is his appreciation for life's gorgeous details—sharing a freshly made cup of coffee while gazing at the night sky; conversation with an Eloise-like hotel denizen; a great meal accompanied by fine wine, followed by the company, late into the night, of a piece of great literature.

I can't begin to tell you how much I loved this book. It is layered with delicious, minute observation, so that you never want to skip over passages. I marvel at Towles' clear mastery of history, culture, epicure, and how he never makes any of it feel stuffy. And it's inspiring to think that a man who began writing novels in middle age—he was an investment banker until 2012—can write fiction as if he were born to it.

I am so thrilled to have the chance to recommend this enthralling, exotic, elegant novel to you.

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Member ratings (10,174)

  • Jana G.

    Tampa, FL

    “…What matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.” While slow @ that start, overall it’s a beautiful story with a ton of heart and history. 4/5 ⭐️s!

  • Tanya K.

    Waukesha, WI

    “I guess the point I’m trying to make is that as a species we’re just no good at writing obituaries. … Because when Fate hands something down to posterity, it does so behind its back.” (Page 302)

  • April P.

    Fleming Island, FL

    This book started out rough for me. I couldn’t read more than 1-2 chapters at a time, and then about halfway through, something clicked and I started viewing the chapters more like short stories.4.5⭐️

  • Peggy E.

    La Grange, IL

    The Count is such a great character, wiser than everyone he meets, while remaining both humble and curious. As a “former person,” he lost almost everything and lived a richer life than most of us do.

  • Elise R.

    Sheridan, IN

    I underestimated this book. There’s a reason it’s highly rated. It’s one of those books that unfolds so preciously through its marvelous details and attention to historical context. Will read again!

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