A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles
“From the New York Times best-selling author of Rules of Civility – a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.” -Audible
I believe this book was recommended to me by someone in my book club. I also saw this in Barnes & Noble‘s in one of the selected areas so I added it to my wish list. The reviews are good and it sounds like a very interesting read. Hopefully I can stay on track because this book is a bit longer than usual for this month.
- The Count and Nina had tea together while he told her about duels and princesses and manners
- The Count had lived in the hotel for four years, though Nina has a lot more experience with every inch of the place because she’s been confined there
- Book 2: 1923
- Book 3
- Nina dropped off her daughter and asked the Count if he could watch her for a month because she’s the only person here she trusts
- He wondered how it was that such a small girl took up so much space in his place
- He also realized that he started to become a man of habit and routine
- Marina told the Count, “unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in the simplest things”
- During their game, Sofia cleverly hid the symbol in his pocket right before he left
- She was all about theatrics with the movement and noises
- Sofia displayed a lot of intelligence even at a young age
- Nina didn’t make it back within the month, within the year, or ever after that
- Eight years later and Sofia had a reputation for being very behaved and studious and quiet
- However, she would play this game where she would appear somewhere else in the hotel seemingly without effort and shock the count
- Book 4:1950
- He felt so much pride in Sofia when he saw her and experienced her playing Chopin on the piano
- She played with such technicality, grace, and expression that astonished him
- The Count told Sofia that no matter how much time passes, those we have loved never slip away from us entirely
- The Count says there are many things that would make his life convenient, but he realized that it’s the inconvenient things that matter to him most
- It is the role of the parent to express his hesitations and concerns, and then take 3-4 steps back so that the child can make the decision by herself, even when that decision may lead to disappointment
- The count told Sofia after she won her school music competition that it marked the beginning of a grand adventure that’s sure to take her far and wide
- He also said that it’s the intrinsic limitations of being young that they can never tell when a grand adventure has just begun
- Book 5. 1954
- During their farewell dinner, the count told Sofia that in response to her question about regretting anything he said that life needed him to be at a particular place at a particular time once in his life
- And that time was the day in the lobby when her mother needed him to look after her
- He wouldn’t trade any of the highest positions in the country in exchange for being in this hotel at that hour
Main ideas / Themes:
Being a Gentleman
Not only is being a “gentleman” part of the book title, it’s also a recurring theme throughout the book. It’s actually the defining characteristic of our main character. As I’ve mentioned, I believe one of the biggest values to the reader from a novel like this is the impression a character leaves on us after we finish the book. Alexander’s charm and most of his life’s success comes from the fact that he holds himself to these higher standards as a gentleman. He gets along with almost everyone, isn’t swayed by the values of others, and lives a fairly content life despite his circumstances.
In fact, his gentleman qualities is what ultimately leads to Sofia coming into his life. Her mother Nina, whom grew up with the Count in the hotel, trusted him enough to leave Sofia with him. She mentioned that she couldn’t trust anybody else except him and absolutely could not take Sofia with her.
Arguably, this was a turning point for Alexander because Sofia brought so much love and happiness into his life as he raised her as his own daughter. I believe a gift like this only came to him because he acted upon his identity of a gentleman.
Parenting is another huge theme in this book. I thought the few nuggets of wisdom regarding parenting was very insightful and valuable to anyone who is in or plans to be in a parental role.
In the book, someone (probably the Count) mentioned that it’s the job of the parent to express their concerns and hesitations to their child, but take 3-4 steps back and let them make their own decisions and face the outcomes. We ultimately raise our children to leave us, so being to overbearing and overprotect them won’t serve them in the long run. At the same time, it’s the parent’s responsibility to keep the child safe and out of harm’s way.
I thought it was funny how he mentioned that 1-2 steps back isn’t enough, but anything more than 4 steps back is to much, haha. Great metaphor.
Above all, love is a central theme in the entire book. Not to sound romantic or anything, but without love, this story loses any meaning or purpose. It’s just about a guy who’s very interesting and that’s it. Love is the invisible glue that bonds the characters together and propels the story forward.
It’s the love that the Count shares with his friends and coworkers that gives him fulfillment despite his circumstances. It’s love that brings him and Sofia together as father and daughter. It’s love that makes the gentleman break from his own comfort and routine to accommodate for this little girl. It’s love that provides the right environment for Sofia to develop into a gentlewoman, filled with talent. It’s what opens doors for her with new opportunities. Love is what keeps people close to us even if they’re far away.
My favorite line in the book which stems from love is “it’s the inconvenient things that matter to him most.” As an experienced man who knows what matters in life, he knows that love is what makes the inconvenient things worth it.
Clearly I didn’t take a copious amount of notes because I was mostly just listening to the story unfold. I do admit that for the first 20%, I was zoning out. Nothing really grabbed my attention and I was getting lost a lot. It was only after he started interacting with Nina that I began to follow along. Even then, there wasn’t much to note down. I think this is one of the books where the value comes from inspecting the story as a whole and the journey that the protagonist goes through.
It’s similar to movies that don’t have a list of insights that the viewer learns from. Rather, the viewer absorbs the character of the protagonist and how they face their challenges and conflicts. From there, the takeaway is the values and principles they exude, as well as how we might add their story to our own experience of life.
I did however appreciate the two or three insights about life sprinkled throughout the book. I think the themes of parenting and love are really strong and worth absorbing.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book (at least the parts I wasn’t zoning out on lol). It was a cute and touching story, especially by the end. However, I definitely need to reread this, especially the first quarter of the book or so.
One Takeaway / Putting into practice:
I loved the book and the handful of insights about life. However, my one takeaway is one of the more obscure and seemingly trivial pieces of perspective that I’d like the take away from this book:
- One of the intrinsic limitations of being young that you can never tell when a grand adventure has just begun
I’d like to think that as a “young” person, I won’t have the foresight to know when a grand adventure has begun. When I look back years from now, it’ll be easy to connect the dots and see. However, it is difficult to visualize from this point in time.
With this in mind, I’d like to approach every opportunity, new activity, friendship, or anything really as a potential new, grand adventure. I might not know it yet, but it could be the start of a turning point or major story arc in my life. With that mindset, I want to not take these little forks in the road for granted, but to be fully present and optimistic about each of them. I think the worst thing would be to miss a great opportunity for a grand adventure because I prematurely wrote it off as something not worth following.
Despite being sentenced to a house arrest in the Metropol hotel, the gentleman Count Alexander Rostov finds himself embarking on a grand adventure.
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