A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
What a wonderful book! This book is about a former Russian aristocrat who is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for the rest of his life in a luxury hotel in Moscow. The preface is a wonderful excerpt from the transcript of the sentencing–and sets up a mystery that the reader doesn’t even know is a mystery until much later in the book. Despite the sad circumstances of his lack of freedom, a lot of beautiful things happen to him throughout the course of his life in the hotel that never could have happened had he not been confined there at that particular place and at that particular time.
Although the story takes place almost entirely inside the walls of the Metropol Hotel, readers can get a good sense of what is going on outside the hotel in Bolshevik times and how things were changing in ways that impacted life inside the hotel–either directly or through the ripple effects that inevitably flow to every corner of society when there is a dramatic shift in the social politics of a country.
The strength of the book is the wonderful writing. The author’s easy, but exacting style, combined with his almost-magical ability to paint a clear picture with words without being heavy handed and hitting readers over the head with unimportant details makes the book engaging and enables the readers to feel like we are right there in the Metropol with Alexander. The author treats his readers with great respect–allowing us to figure things out for ourselves, but providing all the clues we need to do so. That’s what makes reading fun, and that’s the gift Amor Towles gives his readers in this book.
The book is one I wished wouldn’t end, but I was very satisfied with the way it did. When it ended I felt like I was bidding adieu to a good friend, who was able–through time and persistent necessity–to identify and cultivate the things that were most important to human happiness.
Sometimes I read a book and think I could have written this book as well or better than the actual author did. I did not think that in this case. This author’s voice, his love for his characters, his sympathy and honesty for all perspectives, his respect for his readers, and his patience in telling the story made it a unique masterpiece. Bravo!