This book languished on my kindle for a long time, and is one of the ones that I was most looking forward to read as part of my “getting through my kindle backlog” challenge.
It is a first and foremost a charming book, much like the charming gentleman at its heart. It will make you smile more than once or twice, even as it discusses one of the most brutal periods and places in Western History: Russia under the Red Terror and during Stalin’s reign. Towles plays a tricky game here, much like a clever juggler, as he never lets you experience the era’s cruelty at first hand, yet he at the same time never lets you forget it. Even as the count thinks of poetry and the best of human kind, there are asides that remind you what was going on at the same time in the gulags and the collectives, in Ukraine (even then suffering under Russia’s boot), and in the daily lives of Moscovites in bread lines.
If you are looking for realism, this is not the book for you. “A Gentleman in Moscow” has the air of a fairytale to it, an insistence on seeing the good in people, in noticing their nuances and making room for them, in forgiving them for their foibles. It’s an optimistic book and I think we could do we a few more of those in the world.
This is not to say that “A Gentleman in Moscow” lacks sophistication and polish – on the contrary, it may have a little too much of them. Here is my main criticism of this book: it doesn’t trust its reader enough. It isn’t willing to let them pull out their own chair, pour out their own wine. Every point must be made clear, with charm and grace, but with little room for interpretation. The points where you are left to your own thoughts are few and far between, and you are to arrive to them after getting a thorough nudge in the right direction.
All in all though, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is a delightfully charming, accomplished book, with enough sophistication to its narrative to be satisfying without being opaque. It’s an enjoyable book to read, a book that I would gladly recommend, and it reminds me a bit in its overall theme and outlook of “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris” by Paul Gallico (and that’s a compliment, in case you were wondering).
4 thoughts on “Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles”
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OK then. On my TBR list it goes!
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I think that you’ll enjoy it – particularly for the many literary allusions.
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