An enchanting escapism: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles 🏨

But with a dour expression, the German replied that the only contribution the Russians had made to the West was the invention of vodka.”I will buy a glass of vodka for any man in this bar who can name three more.” he said

“I will take you at your word and happily accept your challenge.” said the Count

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

And it does not end with the four, there is also a fifth contribution😉 !?

It’s a favourite time pass of mine to type the words “bestseller English” in the Amazon website’s search tab and scroll through the results and read the reviews of the new books that make an appearance. On one such occasion, this book A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles came up and the reviews were good. It’s my first book by the author. The storyline was simple, stunning and enough to make one die of curiosity on how it ends but more importantly the way it progresses. The setting is year 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat by birth is condemned to house arrest indefinitely at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow and should he step outside he will be shot at sight. He was among the lucky ones, the others of his kind were sent to Siberia or executed by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution.

“As early as the eighteenth century, the Tsars stopped kicking their enemies out of the country, opting instead to send them to Siberia. Why? For they had determined that to exile a man from Russia as God had exiled Adam from Eden was insufficient as a punishment; for in another country, a man might immerse himself in his labours, build a house, raise a family. That is, he might begin his life anew.”

“But when you exile a man into his own country, there is no beginning anew. For the exile at home, the love for his country will not become vague or shrouded by the mists of time. In fact, because we have evolved as a species to pay the utmost attention to that which is just beyond our reach, these men are likely to dwell on the splendours of Moscow more than any Muscovite who is at liberty to enjoy them.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Confined within the walls of the hotel, what is the Count to do to? How is he to keep his sanity and fill the endless highway of time?

“How do you spend your time?”

“Dining, discussing, reading, reflecting. The usual rigmarole.” replies the Count

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The story has flashbacks of the Count’s erstwhile life and family; the present pre-occupations and people who become his new family. How many years can one remain in such a prison; while unlike an actual prison at every possible moment, you see people moving about at free will all around you; how do you not succumb to temptation? Cheka, the secret police can be a deterrent!

These lines from pg 28 in the book is one of the favourites among the readers 😌

“Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worthy considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement.”

“But the count hadn’t the temperament for revenge; he hadn’t the imagination for epics; and he certainly hadn’t the fanciful ego to dream of empires restored. No. His model for mastering his circumstances would be a different sort of captive altogether: an Anglican washed ashore. Like Robinson Crusoe stranded on the Isle of Despair, the Count would maintain his resolve by committing to the business of practicalities.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

While the Count sets the routine to run his days at his new residence in Moscow, the hotel itself is not impervious to the changing political landscape and so within the old walls too there are rude changes that are forced on the management, staff and guests. As the seasons change and the years roll by, it’s the people whom the Count befriend, staff and guests who help keep his spirits up and take the story forward. The Count has skills and temperament valued and sought after by the Russian proletariat, in addition he learns and adapts. And while the Count is forbidden to step out; the world comes in seeking him. How complicated can life in a box be? Depends😀 on the life form, the Count’s life has unexpected twists and turns!

“As both a student of history and a man devoted to living in the present, I admit that I do not spend a lot of time imagining how things might otherwise have been. But I do like to think there is a difference between being resigned to a situation and reconciled to it.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Count is charming to everyone in spite of his dire circumstances and the story is a fantastic read; you have the freedom to be anywhere and yet you choose to be with the Count in the old but majestic Metropol Hotel. It’s sheer curiosity into another’s life forced into a box with limited activities and access; you are glued to what happens next; for a glimpse of the gentleman’s daily routines and chores; what helps him cope, what does he eat; does he get bored of the food; how does he dress; how do the others treat him (once royalty); what is his state of mind; does he have to pay for his stay; does he have any money? Pedestrian thoughts, well, consider them curiosities of a commoner😌; we have just emerged from two years of impromptu lockdowns, this could be a significant contributing factor spurring the interest.

A story set in Russia; when was the last time I read one !? Anna Karenina a long long time ago !

It’s not just the Count’s story; early 20th century has seen the forging of new order in many nations across the world; suffering from war, famine and diseases, the book details the upheaval in Russia beautifully. It’s also a historic recount of the Red Army rule and all the pitfalls of communism; the disillusionment of the once staunch supporters.

“Who would have imagined,” he said, “when you (the Count) were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia.”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I have not enjoyed a fiction book so much in the recent past as this one. Maybe it’s all the new info about life in a country and time I knew very little to begin with. It all seems new and exciting! Above all it’s the protagonist and his likable ways. Travel and space has always set limits to everyone at one point or another; but the mind has always been free to roam and a well read mind or the company of good books can help you fly. But ultimately it’s the people around us that make or break us; the Count had a set of good folks around him or maybe he simply brought out the best in them! This book is a work of fiction, but the Count’s philosophies does rub on you! Kudos to the author !!

A brilliant read that you should not miss!

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