A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; Viking, 2016.  462 pages; $27.00 (hardcover); reading level:  adult.

On June 21, 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is declared to be a “former person” and sentenced to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. Despite this setback, we sense that it is the Count, rather than the Bolsheviks, who is calling the shots. There is something about his aristocratic bearing and his gentlemanly code of ethics that elicit respect, even after he’s accepted his fate, pared down the belongings that filled his grand suite, and moved to a mean room in the hotel’s attic. For three decades, he uses a secret stash of cash for weekly haircuts in the barber shop and meals in the elite Boyarsky Restaurant, kept in operation because even the Bolsheviks couldn’t resist the need for pompous celebrations, “whether [of] the centennial of Das Kapital or the silver anniversary of Lenin’s beard.” The Count interacts with those who pass through the hotel’s doors (Bolshevik committee members, a former Colonel in the Red Army, the staff, a beautiful actress, a precocious nine-year-old, and – years later – the nine-year-old’s daughter). Confined but protected, he watches through the hotel windows as his country buckles under the regime of Stalin. This is at once a history book, a fairy tale, and a warm compendium of the sort of human wisdom acquired when a good-hearted but sheltered man is forced, through circumstances, to take a hard look at a rapidly-changing world. Towles doesn’t soft-pedal the brutality of the period but a dollop of humor is never far away. This is a book that entertains, informs and leaves you, in the end, with an outrageous notion: Perhaps good character, decency and civility just might be capable of winning out in the end.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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