A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


Having loved Rules of Civility, I was excited at the prospect of another Amor Towles book. While this one provided many hours of happy listening, it suffers in comparison to his first book.

It is the story of an aristocrat confined for life by the Bolsheviks in the Metropol, the finest hotel in Moscow, beginning in the 1922. Count Rostov is erudite, a perfect gentleman, and a kind person, that is, he is a tiresome fellow. He does have some worthy reveries, including one triggered by memories of hearing various church bells tolling at midnight on Christmas night with his sister when they were young.

When the Count had passed through Patros Square in 1918 on his hurried return from Paris, he'd come upon a gathering of peasants, milling in mute consternation before the monastery's walls. The Red cavalry, it seems had arrived that morning with a caravan of empty wagons. At the instruction of their young captain, a troop of Cossacks had climbed the campanile and heaved the bells from the steeple one by one…..Presumably the bells of the Church of the Ascension had been reclaimed by the Bolsheviks for the manufacture of artillery, thus returning them to the realm from whence they came, though for all the Count knew, the cannons that had been salvaged from Napoleon's retreat to make the Ascension's bells had been forged by the French from the bells at La Rochelle which had, in turn, had been forged from British blunderbusses seized in the Thirty Years War. From bells to cannon and back again from now until the end of time. Such is the fate of iron ore.

The Count is able to avail himself of the wonderful amenities of the hotel and has money enough to arrange for purchases as needed. He becomes friendly with a child who lives in the hotel with her father and she introduces him to interesting spots in the hotel she has uncovered. When she grows up and leaves for school, she bequeaths him her all-important pass-key. Years later, she returns briefly to the hotel in extreme circumstances and places her daughter in his care. By that point his money had run short and he worked as head waiter at the fine restaurant in the hotel and along with the cook and the hotel concierge, maintain the standards of excellence for this restaurant through good times and bad.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Viking, 2016, 480 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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