Book Review | A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

17 February 2024

The Russian Revolution is one of my top favorite historical events to read and study. I can't really explain why. I just find the nuances of the time so interesting, and the implications of how the rise of the Soviet Union affected the course of history for the whole world. 

Because of my obsession with this time period, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has been sitting at the top of my TBR for a long time. I was honestly kind of intimidated to read it, worried that I had hyped it up too much for myself to actually enjoy it. But I'm glad to say, now that I've finally read it, I really liked it!

A Gentleman in Moscow is a historical fiction novel that follows the history of Russia in the aftermath of the October Revolution and the overthrow of the aristocracy. Count Alexander Rostov, an unrepentant aristocrat, is sentenced to house arrest in the luxurious Metropol Hotel in Moscow for the rest of his life. If he leaves the hotel, he will be shot. 

Most of the book is made up of the Count's reflections on life, which I really enjoyed. Amor Towles' writing is so well crafted, and these philosophical passages would often make me pause, think, and reread them again. I found myself physically underlining sentences, which I rarely do in the fiction books I read. The writing in general was probably my favorite part of my experience with this book.

My second favorite part was the character of the Count. He could have easily become a melancholic, apathetic character given his circumstances, but he was incredibly charming and funny throughout the whole story. Even when his circumstances were difficult, he remained the same. Which was both refreshing and frustrating at the same time.

Yes, while I did love Alexander as a main character, I didn't feel like there was as much character development as I would have expected. Through the course of the novel, we watch as the Count lives out three decades of his life in the hotel, but he truly does feel like the same character from beginning to end. Trapped in his own little bubble of the Metropolitan Hotel, he seems to stay almost completely untouched by the difficult historical events he's living through. 

This seclusion from the world makes the book feel less like a historical fiction novel where the characters are actively participating in the historical events. It's more like a passive history retrospective that's broken up by fun stories of hotel mishaps. Which was fine, just not exactly what I expected to experience.

Besides the character of the Count, I was surprised by how impactful his relationships with the supporting characters were. Living in the hotel for so long, he becomes incredibly close to those who work and stay there regularly. The way he interacts and talks with reoccurring characters was fun to read and was really the main driving factor of the book since it lacked a propulsive plot.

Despite there not being a huge amount of plot throughout most of the story, the ending was more fast paced and sudden, wrapping up in a way that almost gave me whiplash. I listened to the last fifty or so pages on audiobook as I cleaned my house, so the change in format may have caused me to miss details of how it wrapped up. I had to think on it after I finished, and look up discussions online about the ending to fully understand what happened. But I think I am satisfied with the way Towles concluded his novel.

The writing and characters in this book will definitely stay with me for a long time. Even though I didn't get as much context of the Russian Revolution as I would have liked, I'm still very glad I read it and I'm eager to pick up more books by Amor Towles.


"Fate would not have the reputation it has, if it simply did what it seemed it would do." --Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

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