Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles is a book that a person should read and savor, preferably more than once.

After hearing and reading very conflicting reviews about it — quite polarized opinions of either very strong love of the book or very strong dislike for it — I decided to check it out for myself.

So many of the reasons for disliking it seemed to be that the book was boring because it was just about some Russian guy who was stuck in a hotel in Moscow for half his life.

On top of that, apparently, the guy was really into literature, and the author used a lot of big words to write about this guy who didn’t go anywhere or really do anything. Frankly, it sounded like my kind of book.

I absolutely love this novel. I haven’t had time to reread it yet, but I plan to.

The Russian guy is Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.

While the hotel is a real place, the Count and his story are not; however, Towles makes the Count and the characters who inhabit the hotel seem so very real. The novel spans the years 1922 to 1954, and it interweaves a lot of Russian history throughout the story.

As I read the book, I noticed that every chapter title contains only words that begin with the letter A. I thought that was interesting and probably meaningful, so when I was finished reading it, I visited the author’s website at amortowles.com to see if he had an explanation for doing this. Surprisingly, he did not. He simply mentioned that it somehow felt right to do that. While that wasn’t really the answer I’d hoped to find, I did find many interesting and useful things on his website.

Towles has links to various interviews, including a 52-minute talk he gave about this novel in December 2017. In that presentation, he shares an exterior image, taken in 1905, of the actual Metropol Hotel, which he says is about the “size of a city block with hundreds of rooms.”

He claims that it not only was the best hotel in Moscow, but it was the best hotel in all of Russia. A person under house arrest could do much worse than to be condemned to such a place for the rest of his life.

However, the Count, who had been accustomed to staying in the best rooms, found himself condemned to live out his days in a small room in the attic. He doesn’t let this keep him from continuing to live and act like a gentleman, and his impact upon the people who worked and stayed in the hotel became his legacy. A few people, including a young girl who he essentially adopts, benefit more from his distinguished influence.

This novel is beautifully written; the Count is that delightful and intelligent uncle we all wish we had, and the hotel is the backdrop for a microcosm of the historical events that impacted all of Russia. It’s clear that Towles did his research for this novel, and he provides much additional information on his website.

Even though many readers didn’t like this novel, it spent a long time on the bestseller list. After reading it, I am firmly planted on the side of those who loved the book.

* * *

Next month’s reading selection is Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernières.

Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.

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