First read of 2017: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles

For lovers of verbosity, sumptuous descriptions of meals, and magnificent tall tales (that are impossibly, magically [mostly] true).

ar-an898_towles_jv_20160830152939Technically, I started reading A Gentleman in Moscow at the tail end of 2016, sometime in mid-December. I only just finished it a few days ago, in mid-January–but that’s absolutely no indication of my enjoyment of the book. Normally, it’s a bad sign when it takes me so long to finish a novel, especially as (barring work priorities) I can usually push through a work of fiction in a few days to a week, at most. I read on the train, to and from work, and at night when I get home whenever I can.

If it takes me much longer, and I don’t have anything I should be reading, writing, or editing for work, it’s normally because I abandoned the book in favor of other reads. Sometimes, I circle back. But that’s normally a purgatory from which few books return. (I’ll come back for you, Moneypenny Diaries, I promise!)

In the case of Gentleman, I was busy, yes, and dealing with some turns of events in my personal life that took a fairly big emotional toll. But, aside from comics, I wasn’t reading anything else. It simply took me to so long to read because there was so much to glean from those pages–thirty years of Russian history, as well as such an obvious love for the written word–and I didn’t want to miss any of it. Towles’ novel is marked by perhaps the lushest prose I’ve ever had the pleasure to sink into, all gorgeous descriptions of the proper wine to serve with a beef stew and how best to seat members of the Communist Party at an official dinner.

A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat in a time in Russian when it’s rather unfortunate to be one, who finds himself labeled a Former Person by the new regime and sentenced to house arrest in the world-famous and luxurious Metropol Hotel right across the street from the Kremlin. Though this sounds like a lovely arrangement, especially when readers get the full description of Alexander’s lush hotel suite, it quickly becomes anything but. Alexander is relegated to one square room in the hotel’s attic, where he can only bring a few of his family’s prized antiques and heirlooms. It is from that room that Alexander must live out his days–and yet it is from this tiny space that he finds love, family, friendship, strength, courage…and plenty of time for reading.

The lush prose mentioned above not only gives a reader a clear understanding of the time and place, but also leads readers deep into nearly every emotion it’s possible to experience as a human being. The count is a clever, often funny, man, as reflected in the omniscient narrator’s recounting of his actions and the actions of those around him. I laughed out loud numerous times during the course of reading. I also learned a lot from the count, as he has a tendency toward the philosophical.

What I didn’t quite expect to do while reading this book was cry–but cry I did. Not necessarily because of anything particularly upsetting, but more from the poignancy of certain moments (which I will not spoil here). This was a book I simply loved reading and a character I adored following around his beloved hotel, and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who loves the written word as much as the author clearly does.

What have you read so far in 2017? What are you hoping to read next? Let’s chat!


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