Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
ISBN: 9780670026197
Pages: 462
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Historical Fiction

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.

— From Penguin Random House

They say it takes eleven years to see everything in the Hermitage. The countless exhibits, each rich in history and splendor are simply impossible to rush through. But why would you want to? Such is the case with A Gentleman in Moscow. Not just a novel about Russia after the revolution, but a dedicated study of the country and an intricate love letter to its people. You truly want this grand tour to last forever.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up this novel, since I have not read anything else by Towles before. Let me tell you, I was immediately enchanted. This book transcends political differences and focuses on the wonderful characters and their warm, dramatic, and complicated relationships within the walls of a famous hotel. It’s refreshingly void of stereotypes and it doesn’t dish out criticism based on ideological differences. Instead, it shows that as people we all want the same things: stability, fulfillment, love…

I have to compliment the author for really getting Russia’s culture and spirit. I had to check if he perhaps majored in Russian studies in university, but I do not see any indication of that. That little part where his character discusses the burning of Moscow during the Napoleonic wars and its significance was so spot on! I loved it. Towles attempted to really look at his subject with other people’s eyes, and I believe succeeded tremendously. Not every author of historical fiction can do that.

When it comes to his writing, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every word and paragraph are sculpted to perfection. There is poetry in every scene. There were multiple instances when I would just pause to appreciate a particular passage that especially resonated with me. That half a page in the last chapter about coming home after years of absence is being copied into my quote book, guaranteed. If there is a contemporary author who writes with richness and mastery of a true classicist, Towles certainly takes the prize.

Audiobook review:

I also checked out the audio from the library to maximize my time with this book. I think Nicholas Guy Smith is a great narrator. His variation of voices, intonations, and the manner of speech are easy on the ear and not distracting from the story. The only complaint I had was with his pronunciation of some Russian words, which could have been easily avoided if the production team hired a consultant. It really made me wince whenever he pronounced “dacha” – a summer house in the countryside, – as “daka”, or turned a common Russian male name Denis into Western Dennis. Multiple times he also disregarded feminine variations on a surname, even when Amor Towles clearly spelled it out and kept it consistent with grammar rules. In such instances a female character with a feminine last name Litvinova suddenly turned into a masculine Litvinov.

For most listeners it will not be an issue, but when it comes to producing an audiobook with foreign language involved, not paying attention to pronunciation is just lazy.

Purchase this book: Book Depository

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