My goodness, we have a fabulous book for you this week…
This week, I’ll be exploring A Gentleman in Moscow by America author Amor Towles with my old friend, the lovely Kate Walker. Like me, Kate is a busy working mum with a tribe of kids – with similar ages to mine. She’s a mad, keen reader and often has several books on the go at once. This year, she has been slightly distracted from her normal job as she has managed the COVID-19 response for a multinational company in Australia and New Zealand.
Although A Gentleman in Moscow was released in 2016, it is the perfect read for our Covid life as it focuses on the story of Russian aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov who is sentenced to house arrest in Hotel Metropol in Moscow for the rest of his days by the Bolsheviks in 1922. He ends up staying in the hotel for 32 years!!
Camilla, Duchess of Cambridge nominated it as her top #isoread! Obama was a fan and Bill and Melinda Gates thought it was incredible too. It has won a plethora of awards and has even been nominated as the book of the decade.
About Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow is Amor Towles’ second book. Prior to being a full time author, Amor worked on Wall Street.
Amor was inspired to write this book during his travels while working for an investment banking company. He would spend weeks, every year, travelling the world meeting with clients and prospects. In 2009, when arriving in his hotel in Geneva (for the eighth year in a row), he recognised some guests in the lobby from the year before. It was as if they had never left. Upstairs in his room, he began workshopping the idea of a novel in which a man is stuck in a grand hotel but he decided that the protagonist should be there by force, rather than by choice so his mind immediately leapt to Russia—where house arrest has existed since the time of the Tsars. Over the next few days, he sketched out most of the key events of the book – the next few years, he built a detailed outline and then in 2013, he retired from his day job and began writing it.
A Gentleman in Moscow contrasts with his first novel The Rules of Civility which is about a 25 year old woman from a working class background who is trying to climb the ranks socially & economic ladder in Manhattan. The Rules of Civility takes place over a year while A Gentleman in Moscow takes place over 32!
What Alex and Kate Loved About This Book
The History – the book is set in Russia during the Stalinist era however this dark period in Russia’s history which included famines, revolts and WW2, doesn’t overwhelm the story. Towles has the history ticking over in the background but it is definitely not the main thrust of the story. The Count is an incredible optimist who bring grace and dignity to his situation however Towles cleverly uses footnotes and the perspectives of other characters to bring a balanced perspective of this tumultuous period in history.
Count Alexander Rostov – what a gracious, dignified gentleman who displays such incredible perspective on his rather isolating situation. The Count lives his life with 2 pieces of advice at the fore. The first was that if one’ did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them’ – advice given to him as a young child by his God father after the death of both his parents; and the second was from French philosopher Montaigne – ‘that the surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness.’ Some very clear lessons for us as we live through Covid!
The Friendships – the girls loved the friendship between Alexander, Andrey and Emile – the ‘Triumvirate’ who together ensure the Boransky restaurant in Hotel Metropol ran like clockwork. The friendship between the Count and Nina, in the early stages of the book, was also pure delight. Nina played a powerful role in helping the Count see the world like never before and made an indelible mark on his life.
Alex and Kate thoroughly enjoyed the book and fell in love with The Count – a man who opted for the life of the ‘purposefully unrushed’. The girls loved the humour, the language and felt it was a delicious, decadent read that transported the reader to a completely different time and place – Moscow during the era of Stalin.
Both the girls loved the ending however would have liked a little more. So much happened within the last pages of the book which the girls though could have warranted a few more pages! But Amor’s clever use of time in the book in which the time that passes between chapters advances by a doubling principle until the midpoint of the book and then time is halved again may have played a role here. But it was a very clever way of providing granularity to the key moments in the book!
Happy reading everyone! You can listen to Alex and Kate’s full chat on the podcast via the link below or your favourite podcast app.
Lots of love