As the world moves on, a Former Person adapts to his new restricted circumstances, becoming “the luckiest man in all of Russia.”
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has not only left me wondering about the extent to which a man can adjust to a new lifestyle, but has also made me fall in love with the concept of how relationships can shape us. With a humorous, heart-touching character of Count Rostov (or as Bolsheviks would prefer it - Alexander Ilyich), Towles depicts how resilient circumstances can make a man. Count Rostov is put under house arrest right after the Revolution. Confined to the walls of the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, Count Rostov must give up his old ways, leave behind his luxuries, and commit to the mysterious, yet adventurous life ahead. His longing for Nizhny Novgorod, his love for his sister Helena, and his misfortune with an aristocrat - all must be left behind. He even claims that “A man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them.”
The book transports you to Russia back in the early 20th century. From understanding “Russia’s three contributions to the world” (read the book to find out!) to learning how culture, history, and cuisine enrich one’s life, Towles’ delicate writing, with a gist of philosophy, love, and humor, seeps in through one’s soul, and makes them realize the essence of freedom. Count Rostov’s proficiency in food and wine, and his absolute comical disgust for mishaps in cuisine, is a pleasure to read.
I also thoroughly enjoy the notions of friendships Count expresses, at this new stage in his life. To support this, here’s one of my favorite excerpts from the book -
“It is a sad but unavoidable fact of life,” he began, “that as we age our social circles grow smaller. Whether from increased habit or diminished vigor, we suddenly find ourselves in the company of just a few familiar faces. So I view it as an incredible stroke of good fortune at this stage in my life to have found such a fine new friend.”
How beautifully Towles captures friendship!
As I await college, I am pretty much back to feeling like life during lockdown - truly without a purpose for the time being - reading and watching movies as much as I can, while taking some time out to paint. Like the protagonist of the movie, I seek new activities, but luckily to accompany the Count, there is Nina. Nina, a nine-year old, becomes Count Rostov’s guide to the Metropol, and her composed, yet exuberant nature captures the reader. As Count Rostov navigates through the hidden, secret rooms of the Metropol, several nuances of Russia and its history unfold.
Nina, Anna and Sophia are exceptionally well- written dimensional female characters that Towles has given much consideration to. Instead of just being a love interest, Anna Urbanova’s story depicts struggles an actress faces in the film industry in Russia. Sophia’s passion for piano, and her genuinely loving nature makes her a lovable character. Count Rostov also expresses respect and genuine love for the female characters of the story, especially Sophia, and his sympathy for all of his friends, making this book such a treat to read!
For me, each line of this book is written with passion and finesse. Each character is unique in its own way, expressing different values, beliefs and mindsets, much like a representation of how divided Russia became after the Revolution. The Metropol, and the life it sustains, stands amidst the bustling city of Moscow, juxtaposed to the ever-changing autocratic nature of Russia. The Metropol, with Count Rostov, Nina, Mishka, Anna, Sophia, Andrey, Emile, Marina, Richard, Osip and even the Bishop, is a symbol of hope, love and strength of will.
An amazing read, this book is going to be a favorite of mine, forever.