Book Review

A Gentleman in Moscow


Stick with it!  Stick with it!  I urge this of you, fellow reader, just as it was urged of me.  I started reading this book twice and twice set it aside.  Then, when my book group voted to discuss it at our September (2017) meeting, I knew I had to apply myself.  But how to get into a book whose first fifty pages, while descriptive and well-written, are not riveting?

Stick with it!

Actually, I had additional incentive.  Finding myself with lots of car travel time, I would be a captive audience.  So I downloaded the audiobook and listened from first page to last.

It.  Was.  Marvelous.  And I use the word ‘marvelous’ not because I would normally use it myself, but because I can just hear the narrator using it in the British-accented voice of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov.

The setting is the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, in the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, chronicling the more than thirty years that our Count is held there under house arrest.  The writer in me found this a fascinating twist – an entire, rich novel unfolding in a single confined place.

The writing is brilliant.  I may be biased, since the author graduated (albeit several years before) from the same high school as one of my sons.  I’m not sure if Mr. Towles was an English major, a history or government major, or something else entirely, but his knowledge of Russia is remarkable.  Likewise, his knowledge of classical music and literature – and, of course, words – actually, mostly words.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a celebration of the elegance of words.  I found myself smiling, time and again, at various descriptions and phrases.  I wrote some down.  I thought of many well after the reading was done.

So the prose is amazing.  Likewise, the richness of characterization.  Towles captures various secondary characters with perfection.  But the Count.  Ahhhh, the Count.  His dry wit, cleverness, knowledge, and sheer indomitable spirit truly make the book.

A Gentleman in Moscow is not an action book or a thriller, but there is enough of each at opportune times to propel the plot forward.

I would say that this book is about the process, rather than the journey.  But it does cover the journey as well.  There may be down times; every journey has those.  But they are necessary for a full appreciation of the trip.

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