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REVIEW: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

SYNOPSIS: With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style.

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count 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 a doorway 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.

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Russia

RATING: ★★★★★/ 5 Incredibly Satisfying stars!

REVIEW: Book hangover. Book hangover for days. I had such an emotionally fulfilled feeling at the end of this novel that when I finished the last page, I closed the book, sat back, sighed deeply, and thought, "well, what now? where do I go from here? how do I move on?" hangover.

It seems convoluted to start a review with the ending of a book, but this novel is actually a rather long tale, spanning 30+ years, so before I get into the journey, allow me this one break with decorum. The ending. Oh, this ending. Whenever anyone asks me which book ending I love the most, I will usually answer Water for Elephants, because it has one of the most satisfying endings I have ever read. And until now no other novel has come close to changing my answer. But A Gentleman in Moscow, if not completely upsetting Sara Gruen's work, at least pulls level with it, because it is such a satisfying end to this novel, and I'll say no more than that for fear of ruining the experience for anyone else.

Who hasn't had the thought, at some point, that it would be nice to live in a hotel? Perhaps we don't imagine that it will be under house arrest and 1922 in Moscow, but it's a luxurious idea to entertain. It feels like such a universal fantasy that, despite the fact that we are not (probably) an aristocrat, a connoisseur of multiple tastes, exceedingly cultured, and currently exiled within our own country, we somehow connect with Count Rostov immediately. Here is a man from a by-gone era and yet he wins us over completely with his wit and charm from the very first page.

This is all due completely to the beautiful writing of the author, of course. Amor Towles caught my attention with his first book Rules of Civility (which I also highly recommend), a book that is completely opposite to this one in nearly every way, except the writing. Towles writes with such sophistication and beauty in every carefully chosen word that it manages to feel effortless. It's captivating.

A Gentleman in Moscow is rich with detail. The first half of the book creates a thorough and gorgeous visual of the hotel and it's occupants. While it may seem a bit exhaustive, it's entirely necessary. The reader is being immersed so fully into this setting that we feel just as the Count feels in his many years in the Metropol. And nothing is without purpose. Each moment and person is leading somewhere and the second half of the book is a revelation of a life well lived.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the humor and philosophical wisdom running throughout this novel. At times it's witty and funny in that perfectly refined way, and in the next moment it's incredibly astute and insightful. I could quote this book for days. As I was reading I would reach for my phone to snap a picture of passage that I didn't want to forget. This happened often. As intelligent as it is entertaining, this book has it all.

I could ramble on about the the delightful and stunning setting of this book as well as the cast of characters that weave in and out and in again, but it might actually be overkill. By this point I'm sure you know that I recommend this book for multiple reasons. So it seems only right that you should discover the hotel and the people in it for yourself without me spoiling a thing.

A Gentleman in Moscow is wonderful from beginning to end. It's the type of book that I know I will reread because I'm not ready to let it go. I don't want to say goodbye to the world and people that Towles has created, so I won't. I'll revisit often and always with a perfectly paired glass of wine in my hand, as Count Rostov would approve.

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