“A life without luxury can be the richest of all.”
This is the tagline right at the top of the front book cover. It’s a great tagline. I love it. I also love the book cover and I think it’s one of the most gorgeous book covers I have seen and experienced. Gold geometric patterns on a black background is just so rich and enticing.
This is a story of a man who is put under house arrest. For thirty two years. In our current scenario, where we are all under lockdown, this moment felt all too real as I read this book. It is a work of fiction based in Moscow from the years 1922 through 1953, so we have the Count’s life story along with the events unfolding the changing Russia.
It is 1922 in Russia. The main character, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, has been under house arrest for thirty two years and is put up in a room at the famous Hotel Metropol in Moscow. He is under house arrest because he wrote a poem which had revolutionary undertones and the ruling Communist party didn’t like that. So the Count is moved from his luxurious room from third floor to the small attic of the hotel.
Transitioning from a life of luxury to a an attic, without his possessions, prove to be difficult for him in the first few weeks. He spends a lot of time in the hotel, frequenting the restaurants, the barber shop, drinking in the hotel bar and reading the newspapers and books.
The book becomes a whole lot more interesting when he meets several people who pass by through the hotel. One of them is a young girl Nina, who spends her time in the hotel showing the Count all the rooms as she has the Master Key (which she also gives to the Count as a Christmas gift).
A year later, he meets Mishka, a poet who is eager for the changes to occur in the Russian society. The same day he meets Anna Urbanova, an actress who invites him to her suite and seduces her.
He becomes particularly annoyed at the Bishop, who rises through the ranks in the hotel. The Counts annoyances comes from the fact that this man has no experience or tact yet makes his way to the top. This frustrates the Count because he is used to seeing people rise on merit and experience. The Count old ways are being forgotten.
On the tenth anniversary of his sister’s death, the Count feels very despondent and attempts to commit suicide from the roof of the hotel, where he encounters the handyman, Abram, who is also a beekeeper. He gives the Count some honey to taste, which reminds him of his home province, and so he stops from committing suicide.
The thought process of the Count begins to change here as he realizes his life is on a different path. No longer are his aristrocratic ways are important and he starts some serious soul searching. After his experience at the rooftop, the Count reassesses his life, and takes up a job as a waiter in the hotel restaurant. Hencefoth, his life begins to change and he starts looking at his life from a different perspective.
To read A Gentleman in Moscow is an experience. I will not get into. the rest of the book because it has to be read to truly experience the life of the Count. There is a lot more that happens, and along with the changes that happen in Russia, the Count also meets several more characters, along with visits from old ones he’s met.
The character of the Count is such a fully realized character, that at times I had to remind myself this book is a work of fiction and he is not a real person. So well documented is his life, his mannerisms, his thought process, that it almost felt like a memoir of sorts. It became hard for me to shake off this character once I finished this book. Amor Towles, the author, must have spent a long time devising this character (and it could be based on an amalgamation of several people for all we know) and that effort shines through in the book.
I loved the transition phase the Count goes through. From living a luxurious life, he comes to lead a simple life, and in there he finds his life being at peace and contentment. Little, simple things in life bring about the biggest joys. Witnessing that transformation is a major highlight for me in the book.
The other aspect that I really enjoyed in the book was it’s setting, Moscow, Russia. As I had recently visited Russia in 2018, I felt very connected to the setting in the book. I could experience the people, the weather, the hotel, the changes, everything. This made my reading experience a whole lot more real, and in turn more engrossing and enjoyable.
Even after finishing the book, the character of Count stayed with me for several days. I wondered what his life would be like today. I wondered what happened to him at the end. I wondered what it would be like to meet him in person. This is truly the mark of a great writer who has created such an interesting and intriguing character, that he feels like a real person.
The hotel itself is a character. Amor Towles does an absolutely damn amazing job of giving life to the hotel. From it’s main entrance, to it’s glitxy restaurants, it passageways, to it’s roof, I totally felt absorbed by the hotel. I just loved the experience of being inside the hotel.
With the tumultuous Russian events, with large variety of rich characters, with dramatic and funny moments, with emotionally charged incidents, with redemption, this book has it all.
A Gentleman in Moscow is that one book where the story warmed my heart and made me realise that I can seek that life of purpose and meaning through some of the more simpler things.
Clearly, one of best books for 2020, if not my entire life!