The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles debut, Rules of Civility , shapes A Gentleman in Moscow ] Entertainment Weekly
Elegant as lavishly filigreed as a Faberge egg O, the Oprah Magazine
He can t leave his hotel. Read more...
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The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles debut, Rules of Civility, shapes A Gentleman in Moscow] Entertainment Weekly
Elegant as lavishly filigreed as a Faberge egg O, the Oprah Magazine
He can t leave his hotel. You won t want to.
From theNew York Timesbestselling author ofRules of Civility a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel
Towles s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of these peripheral workers, over the course of decades, into confidants, equals and, finally, friends. With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia. The New York Times Book Review
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
And the intrigue A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama. The San Francisco Chronicle"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-11
- Reviewer: Staff
House arrest has never been so charming as in Towles’s second novel (following Rules of Civility), an engaging 30-year saga set almost entirely inside the Metropol, Moscow’s most luxurious hotel. To Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the Metropol becomes both home and jail in 1922, when the Bolsheviks spare his life (on the strength of a revolutionary poem written in 1913, when the count was at university). Forbidden to venture out, Rostov explores the intricacies of the grand structure and befriends its other denizens: precocious nine-year-old Nina Kulikova, a bureaucrat’s daughter who demands instruction on how to be a princess; Emile, virtuosic chef of the Boyarsky, “the finest restaurant in Moscow”; Andrey, the Boyarsky’s French expatriate maître d’; and the beautiful actress Anna Urbanova, who becomes the count’s regular visitor and paramour. Standing in for the increasingly despotic Soviet government is the Bishop, a villainous waiter who experiences gradual professional ascent—he becomes headwaiter of the Boyarsky, finally putting his seating-chart and wine-pairing talents to use. But when the adult Nina returns to ask Rostov for a favor, his unique, precariously well-appointed life must change once more. Episodic, empathetic, and entertaining, Count Rostov’s long transformation occurs against a lightly sketched background of upheaval, repression, and war. Gently but dauntlessly, like his protagonist, Towles is determined to chart the course of the individual. (Sept.)
An outsized life in a Russian hotel
Entering a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, for an annual investment conference some years ago, Amor Towles suddenly envisioned the premise for his inventive, entertaining and richly textured second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow.
“It came to me in a flash,” Towles says during a call that reaches him in his study—“a 19th-century library” with windows overlooking the street, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a fireplace—in the townhouse near Gramercy Park in Manhattan that he shares with his wife and their children, ages 14 and 11. “I was looking at the people in the hotel lobby and having this eerie sense that I had seen them before. And I thought, what would it be like to live in a hotel like this for the rest of your life?”
Towles rushed upstairs to outline the book. Within the first hour, he knew that his character would not be in the hotel voluntarily; he would be held by force. “And I thought if a guy has to be in a hotel by force, Russia is the perfect place.”
So the story of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov—a Russian aristocrat arrested by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution, saved from execution because he had written an influential revolutionary poem in his youth, and then sentenced in 1922 to permanent house arrest in the servants’ quarters of Moscow’s grand Hotel Metropol—began to take shape.
But it would be a number of years before Towles actually sat down to write the novel. Now 52, the author says he’s been writing since he was a kid. At Yale, his mentor was Peter Matthiessen, with whom he remained friends until Matthiessen’s death in 2014. And during his graduate writing fellowship at Stanford, he was close to novelist Gilbert Sorrentino. But when he moved to New York City at the age of 25, he found that he “wasn’t ready to be alone in my apartment writing all day.” Nor did he find the bartending, table-waiting and fact-checking jobs of his artistic contemporaries appealing. So he joined a friend who was starting Select Equity, an investment-advising firm, and for the next decade he worked to build a successful business. In his late 30s he began writing again, and in 2011, he published his first novel, the bestseller Rules of Civility. Its success allowed him to retire and devote himself to fiction writing. In 2013, he began to work in earnest on A Gentleman in Moscow.
The action of the novel unfolds over the course of roughly 35 years. A central question the book explores is how we adapt to difficult circumstances over which we have little or no control. Towles’ Count Rostov becomes a kind of model of how to live well within very constrained circumstances. He is an educated, affable, kind man who has a passion for food, music, literature and love that seems to grow out of Towles’ own sensibilities. Towles’ evocative descriptions of food, for example, will definitely make a reader’s mouth water. “I don’t mind using the novel to sweep in many things that I enjoy,” Towles says, laughing. “That was part of the fun of it for me.”
A parallel challenge here is how a novelist makes such a confined life interesting over the course of many decades. In this regard, Towles is remarkably inventive. The Count develops surprisingly deep relationships with guests in the hotel, has an ongoing romance with a beautiful, aging actress, eventually becomes a head waiter because of his expertise in organizing social occasions, and finally becomes a loving, overly protective adoptive father to a musically talented girl whose parents disappear in the Russian Gulag. All of this happens within the confines of the hotel. And through all these changes, the seemingly narrow life of the Count lives large in our imaginations.
In addition, the location of the Count’s soft-cuffed imprisonment, the Hotel Metropol, becomes a fascinating character in and of itself. It makes an interviewer wonder, could such a place actually exist in the early years of the Soviet Union?
“The short answer is yes,” Towles says. “It was seized by the Bolsheviks because they needed office space for the government. Moscow, after all, had not been the seat of government for centuries. But when European nations recognized the Soviet government at the end of the Civil War, the Bolsheviks realized pretty quickly that the first thing foreign diplomats and businessmen would see when checking in was a crappy hotel, a signal that the revolution was failing. So they restored the hotel to its former grandeur and it became the place, not only for foreigners, but for all of Russia, who dreamed of dining and dancing there.”
Towles’ knowledge of Russian history and literature is deep, which adds a pleasing and provocative texture to the novel. But he says adamantly, “I am not a research-oriented writer. A premise gets brighter and sharper the more it’s tied to an area of existing fascination for me. That happened here. I love Russia. I’ve read all the Russian writers and admire them. I think Russian history is fascinating.”
Instead of facts and research, Towles says he thinks of his writing in musical terms. “I think the closest cousin to the novel in the art realm is the symphony. A novel has movements and leitmotifs. It has moments of crescendo and diminuendo. You feel a growing emotional force and then it backs off for reflection. A work must feel cohesive and organic and the beginning and end inform each other in a way that we can hold in our head.”
It’s an apt observation. Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow often reads like it has a song in its heart.