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Don’t Make the Same Foolish Mistake I Made! Read A Gentleman in Moscow

Don’t be deterred by the title

attractive young man in suit looking out windows
Photo by Benyamin Bohlouli on Unsplash
“Why would I want to read about a solitary man wandering around a hotel in Moscow?” I thought to myself. “The last thing I want to read about is a privileged guy living in a luxury hotel in a country I’m furious at right now.”

My own dumb assumptions

Sometimes my own stupidity astounds me. For someone who thinks she’s an open-minded connoisseur of literature, I can be really dumb, stubborn, and dense on occasion.

Case in point:

I had heard lots of good things about Amor Towles’ novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. I knew there was buzz about it in the literary world, but I stubbornly thought I wouldn’t like it by my judgment of its title.

“Why would I want to read about a solitary man wandering around a hotel in Moscow?” I thought to myself. “The last thing I want to read about is a privileged guy living in a luxury hotel in a country I’m furious at right now.”

Boy, was I wrong! Upon the recommendation of my dear friend whose literary judgment I trust, I read the novel, and WOW. My, oh my. I truly enjoyed it.

Acclaim for A Gentleman in Moscow

I understand why its received such acclaim. The New York Times mentions its “idiosyncratic wonder.” A reviewer for NPR says that it’s a “novel that aims to charm, not be the axe for the frozen sea within us. And the result is a winning, stylish novel that keeps things easy.” The Washington Post’s comment was that the novel is “a charming reminder of what it means to be classy.” Bill Gates, who like me, admits to being late to the reading frenzy, says this:

A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood, and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you’d be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story. Even if Russia isn’t on your must-visit list, I think everyone can enjoy Towles’s trip to Moscow…”

It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover — or by its title.

Politics aside

A Gentleman in Moscow was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House. It’s yet another book that I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read. (“See the article on “How Writing to a Lover Forever Affected the Lives of Others” about the History of Love below.) But six years after its publication, I came to understand the beauty of A Gentleman in Moscow. The title made me turn up my nose. Truth be told, I just thought it sounded boring. A man wandering about by himself in a hotel — in Russia, no less. But the book is about so much more than a rich man. It’s about being kind, compassionate, and curious in the worst of circumstances. It’s about building relationships, making families, and thriving instead of just surviving. A joy to read, A Gentleman in Moscow is filled with observations of humanity and profound life philosophies.

The plot

Count Alexander Rostov is a wealthy man sentenced by the new Communist regime to a life of exile within the Metropol hotel where he lives. His punishment includes being moved from his luxurious suite to a tiny, cramped, attic room where he lives for not just a few days, months, or years, but for DECADES. Over the course of years, the reader sees Count Rostov overcoming depression and thoughts of suicide. He learns to live life to its fullest by developing relationships, becoming a father, and starting a career as a waiter. While it sounds impossible that this would be interesting to read, it is. Amor Towles has developed characters, situations, and dialogue that create tension and make the book a page-turner.

Unexpected and unrivaled

You would think that a guy living in the confines of a hotel year upon year wouldn’t have much chance of unexpected plot twists, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong. (I certainly was.) A Gentleman in Moscow contains twists that I never saw coming and that made the book that much more meaningful in the end. Amor Towles is an unrivaled master of alliteration, literary allusion, and playful language. He is also a wordsmith capable of crafting memorable observations about the human condition like these:

“Imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness."
What can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only consideration, but ‘re-consideration’ — and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.” and “That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love."

The title?

Don’t be dumb like I was and put off reading this beautiful book because the title makes it sound like it’s some sort of manly, testosterone-filled political treatise. It most definitely is not.

Forgive me, Amor Towles, for this one small criticism of your title. I’d love to know what other titles you considered and why you settled on this one.

If you’re a reader with a great alternative title for this book, I’d love to hear that, too!


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