A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Book Review

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Book Cover

If the first chapter’s improbability, where Amor Towles’ protagonist jests with his humor-prone Bolshevik compatriots, doesn’t put you off, and the book’s verbosity doesn’t immediately deter with its many twisty and winding sentences right from the start, then suddenly you find yourself beginning to like Alexander Ilyich Rostov, this charming and kind-hearted bohemian. Although you might have started with the assumption that “A Gentleman in Moscow” is sure to be some romantic affair, full of whining, but then again, it’s not.

We’re in 1922, by the way. Ah, the finest years of communism! Wait, scratch that: The count is declared a class enemy and is sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, confined to a attic room in the Metropol Hotel. Reluctantly, he has to start assimilating into the world of work.

As a reader, you might not tolerate all the babble, feel annoyed by the verbosity, and get chills from the unnecessary, unwarranted, and superfluous use of adjectives. I’m exactly the same way too! I’ll tell you that clearly, straight, plain, and openly. Nevertheless, I must admire with genuine astonishment when, for example, in “A Gentleman in Moscow”, the relationship between goulash and a type of wine is compared to the not overly sunny relationship between Achilles and Hector, and the metaphor then happily leaps onto a Trojan war chariot from there.

And then there are Montaigne’s essays, the Nizhny Novgorod apple cultivation, and family anecdotes in abundance, but all done with such elegance that it’s very difficult to extricate yourself from their influence. (Moreover, since Amor Towles is obviously a lover of Russian culture, after a while you find yourself surprised, deciding that you will definitely tackle War and Peace for the second time, which you abandoned thirty years ago when you got completely lost in the forest of Russian names.)

This verbosity, however, certainly won’t appeal to everyone. If you’re already annoyed by it at the beginning, it’s better to leave this book alone.

However, if you continue reading, you may feel that “A Gentleman in Moscow” is the MOST PLEASANT novel that has come your way lately: it exudes cheer, goodwill, and disarming humanity, despite being set in a dark era. Even towards the absurdities of Bolshevism, it is mainly addressed with gentle irony. The few chapters where it speaks more directly, such as the one about the Ukrainian famine, stands out from the novel like sore thumb.

And how long does the admiration last? Precisely until little Sofia appears on the pages of the book. After this, the count’s story visibly ends, but Towles’s book unfortunately continues – although it would have been advisable to end it with a masterful stroke. Instead, the focus shifts to Sofia, and indeed her story is much less interesting: a series of trivial, sometimes entirely boring and sentimental scenes. Strangely, even Count Rostov’s quirks resurface. But if you’ve made it this far, you probably won’t abandon the story, which becomes livelier once again towards the very end and turns into a more subdued espionage tale. Still, it slips down from a much higher rating to a

6.8/10.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
462 pages, Paperback
Published in 2019 by Penguin Books

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