It’s so easy to take our freedom of speech for granted. In A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has committed a crime and is now sentenced to live the rest of his life in the world famous Metropol Hotel in Moscow, Russia. If he dares to step outside, he will be shot on sight. What was his crime? He wrote a poem–a political, divisive poem that he wrote as young man in 1913, but now, in 1922, has to answer for. And so, he has to live out his days wandering the halls of the Metropol. The beginning of the book is slowly paced, as the Count acclimates himself to his new life. He is often bored, counting down the minutes to his weekly appointment with the hotel’s barber. A young girl who also lives her life in the hotel shows him all the best hiding spots to spy on people in exchange for the Count telling her how to be a princess. As time goes on, the Count becomes intertwined with old friends, an actress, and a deadly plot against him.
The way Towles writes his descriptions is playful and witty. The Count himself is the charming gentleman we’d like to imagine the aristocracy to be. There’s often little asides in the book that explain certain things in further detail, one of my favorites being a footnote that spans almost two pages. In one spot, Towles tells us to forget about a character, but to be on the lookout for another character that’s going to make a brief appearance in the next chapter. Occasionally Towles will go ahead and tell the reader what’s going to happen even further down the timeline.
Lemuria recently had an event where Towles came and signed books and then spoke about A Gentleman in Moscow. Let me tell you: he was riveting. Towles spoke about the research he did in writing this book, about the Bolsheviks that didn’t like the poem the Count had written, about how Lenin had his photos altered to erase people that fell out of favor with him (when I went home afterwards, I immediately started doing my own research on these early “Photoshopping” jobs. It’s fascinating.) Towles is charming and witty in person, so it’s no wonder that his books translate the same charm and wit.
If you’re still on the fence about reading this delightful book, I implore you to watch the book trailer right here.