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Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

I read Amor Towles' novel A Gentleman in Moscow (#676) on a friend's recommendation.  Like him, I found it captivated me from the opening pages, although I knew that what I was reading was only possible in the hands of a gifted storyteller.

The gentleman of the title is thirty year old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov who is sentenced in 1922 to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in the heart of Moscow, under pain of death should he ever attempt to leave.  How does one cope in these circumstances, let alone find one's eventual purpose in life?  The answer unfolds in a series of flashbacks, anecdotes and real time narratives which are alternately tragic, humorous, and  philosophical.  But above all, these serve to illuminate the integrity of Sasha's character.  What a privilege it would be to dine with him in the fabled Boyarsky Restaurant at the Metropol!  Not that the Count is without enemies; he is merely fortunate that his friends have more pull.  I couldn't wait to find out what happened next as the decades pass...

The one cloud that hung over this story when I began reading it was the fate of the real Russian aristocrats, the intelligentsia and the skilled workmen of that time after reading Douglas Smith's recent horrifying non-fiction book  Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. (See my post of 7/30/13.)  Amor Towles does refer to Count Rostov in his novel as a Former Person, but unless you understand the stigma and danger attached to that label, it's difficult to appreciate how perilous his position was from day-to-day and the burden that knowledge placed on his shoulders.  That's where Mr. Towles skill comes to the fore; anyone could make this a depressing and gloomy book; it takes a master to infuse it with light and the joy of living.

An thoroughly entrancing read.  Highly recommended.

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