Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles


In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov appears before Russia’s Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. It’s all because of a 1913 revolutionary poem published in Rostov’s name, deeming him a threat to the country. Instead of execution or a trip to Siberia, the Committee orders the Count to serve the rest of his days under house arrest at the famous Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where the new Bolshevik regime has taken over the second floor.

Rostov has lived in luxury at the hotel for four years, but his new chambers are in the hotel’s crowded attic and he must abandon most of his belongings. And so begins the Count’s new life within the walls of the hotel.

Rostov may be accustomed to riches, but that hasn’t made him soft. He knows that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”

In a terrific story that spans over thirty years, Rostov redefines his “citizenship” at the hotel, which is the center of Russian history, culture, politics and international travel. And just as the Metropol is the hub of activity, the Count becomes central to many relationships, both personal and political.

From a charming nine-year-old girl, Nina, to a moody chef, an exacting maître d’, a seamstress, a famous actress, politicians, businessmen, an old friend and many others, these relationships expose Rostov to the country’s great social and political upheaval and the Western world’s reaction to it. Insulated from hardship and persecution, the Count may just be “the luckiest man in all of Russia.”

In 1938, Nina returns to the hotel and asks Rostov a great favor, and this is when the Count’s life’s purpose begins. Story lines and relationships take on new meanings as Rostov, now an older man, plans for the future.

I loved every word of this book because it includes all the things I value in a great story: historical setting, passage of time, strong relationships, loss, big themes, and an interconnected plot that comes together by equal amounts of planning and chance.

What a feat for Towles to create such a relatable character as Rostov. Although the Count’s aristocratic life has made him into one man, it’s his ability to adapt and his empathy for people that makes him so endearing. Towles mixes that in with a proper man’s honor, a sentimental soft spot and adventuresome wile, making Rostov’s character one I will think about for years to come.

I highly recommend A Gentleman in Moscow. I was a little late to the party in reading it, but I’m in good company. It made Bill Gates’s top reads of 2019 (see the list here and read his Goodreads review here).

Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? What did you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!


26 thoughts on “Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

  1. I read it a couple years ago and as I told my wife about it, I found myself crying. It has all the elements: a perfectly crafted story, real people, luscious writing, and a surprising-but-inevitable ending. No surprise that Towles takes so much time between books.

    1. I was just thinking about that – how it’s been a while between books. Makes sense. I think A Gentleman in Moscow is the perfect book for all the same reasons you name. I loved the finish, too.

  2. I read that book about a year ago, and I liked it very much! I was shocked when a friend told me she tried to read it, but stopped because it was “boring and nothing ever happened.” I guess that just goes to show how different people can have completely different tastes in literature!

    1. It’s true, Ann. I wonder if people are put off by the 500 pages? I like a big book and all the pages are worthy in this one. Can’t say enough about how perfect I think it is. Thanks for the visit and for commenting. 🙂

      1. Hey Barb. Just saw your reply. Been crazy. We moved again for the second time in less than a year, but we bought a place, so will be here for a while. Going to have a custom floor-to-ceiling bookshelf built! My dream come true.

  3. Hello. New visitor here, found your delightful blog via your interview with Berthold Gambrel 😊
    I read this book middle of last year and I absolutely LOVE it! Before I’d even finished it, I knew it belonged on my list of all-time favourite reads and its one I’ll happily re-read time and again. I totally understand your gushing over this book – I did too in my review! Amor Towles’ wordplay is a delight and his descriptions are so evocative. As for the Count – what I wouldn’t give to meet an actual gentleman of his calibre.

    1. Hi Joy and thanks for stopping by. I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. I had been hearing about it for so long, but stayed away because I’d read Rules of Civility and I didn’t enjoy it that much. But A Gentleman in Moscow is so fantastic – it hit everything I like in a great story! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  4. Hi, Barbara – I also read Towles’ book this past January. I loved almost* every bit of it for precisely the reasons that you have stated — poetic writing, historical setting, intriguing characters, meaningful relationships, big themes, and an interconnected plot. Most of all, I loved how Rostov embodied the philosophy that while we cannot always control what comes our way, we do have a choice in how we respond. The part that I did not love was the ending. The final pages of sneakery, thievery, deceit and guns blazing undid some of Rostov’s beautifully demonstrated values (despite their higher purpose) and was much too Hollywood for me.
    I am glad I read your review just now. It reminded me of another truth that Towles so wisely shared, that is very applicable to our current times. “if a man does not master his circumstances, then he is bound to be mastered by them.” I’ll need to continue to remind myself of this.
    Thank you for another meaningful and thought-provoking review.

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