A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov and his exile to the halls of the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. After being confined in the hotel under house arrest by the new Russian government in 1922, his life is changed from one of opulence to one of scarcity. His confinement leads him to learn more about himself and those who live and work at the hotel, and he develops a relationship with a young girl that will end up changing his life. Towles’s story is charming and extremely well written, easily bringing 20th century Russia to life on the pages of this novel.
While the idea of being confined in a hotel for the rest of your life doesn’t sound too exciting, Towles is able to make the situation extremely engaging. By focusing on small details and relationships, the story slowly builds throughout the novel, flawlessly leading a guileless reader along until a surprising ending. Every detail and character plays a part in the story, as the charming and clever narrator suggests in the footnotes sometimes found on the bottom of pages.
Just as the story slowly builds throughout the novel, so do the characters. The subtle development of Count Rostov, Sophia, Nina and others help to convey a very accurate passage of time. At the end of the book, when relationships have deepened and characters have changed, the reader is hit with the same realization as the Count — that while the future seems far away, it quickly catches up to you. Towles’s writing beautifully conveys a realistic sense of time and character development, making the Count’s predicament all the more realistic and empathetic.
Towles also provides many small lessons on Russian history throughout the story, and I definitely learned a few things. While abounding in historical details, there is also an abundance of eloquent advice and wordplay, which adds to the joy of reading this novel. A truly enjoyable piece of historical fiction, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the genre! I am very excited to read his first novel, which has gotten equally good reviews!