A Gentleman in Moscow
September 2016 Indie Next List
— Becky Dayton, The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT
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From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility, a beautifully 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.
Praise For A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel…
—The Wall Street Journal
"If you're looking for a summer novel, this is it. Beautifully written, a story of a Russian aristocrat trapped in Moscow during the tumult of the 1930s. It brims with intelligence, erudition, and insight, an old-fashioned novel in the best sense of the term."
—Fareed Zakaria, "Global Public Square," CNN
"Fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat . . . A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you would be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story.”
“The book is like a salve. I think the world feels disordered right now. The count’s refinement and genteel nature are exactly what we’re longing for.”
“How delightful that in an era as crude as ours this finely composed novel stretches out with old-World elegance.”
—The Washington Post
“[A] wonderful book at any time . . . [I]t brought home to me how people find ways to be happy, make connections, and make a difference to one another’s lives, even in the strangest, saddest and most restrictive circumstances.”
—Tana French, author of The Searcher
“The novel buzzes with the energy of numerous adventures, love affairs, twists of fate and silly antics.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A winning, stylish novel.”
“The perfect book to curl up with while the world goes by outside your window.”
“Who will save Rostov from the intrusions of state if not the seamstresses, chefs, bartenders and doormen? In the end, Towles’s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of these peripheral workers, over the course of decades, into confidants, equals and, finally, friends. With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“This is an old fashioned sort of romance, filled with delicious detail. Save this precious book for times you really, really want to escape reality.”
“Towles gets good mileage from the considerable charm of his protagonist and the peculiar world he inhabits.”
—The New Yorker
“Irresistible . . . In his second elegant period piece, Towles continues to explore the question of how a person can lead an authentic life in a time when mere survival is a feat in itself . . . Towles’s tale, as lavishly filigreed as a Fabergé egg, gleams with nostalgia for the golden age of Tolstoy and Turgenev.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘Eloise’ meets all the Bond villains.”
“And the intrigue! . . . [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery . . . a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility, shapes [A Gentleman in Moscow].”
Praise for Rules of Civility
“An irresistible and astonishingly assured debut."
—O, the Oprah Magazine
“With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Sharp [and] sure-handed.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent."
“[A] wonderful debut novel.”
—The Chicago Tribune
“Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.”
“A book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Viking, 9780670026197, 480pp.
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. In the transcript at the opening of A Gentleman in Moscow, the head of the tribunal and Count Rostov have the following exchange:
“Secretary Ignatov: I have no doubt, Count Rostov, that some in the galley are surprised to find you charming; but I am not surprised to find you so. History has shown charm to be the last ambition of the leisure class. What I do find surprising is that the author of the poem in question could have become a man so obviously without purpose.
Rostov: I have lived under the impression that a man’s purpose is known only to God.
Secretary Ignatov: Indeed. How convenient that must have been for you.”
To what extent is A Gentleman in Moscow a novel of purpose? How does the Count’s sense of purpose manifest itself initially, and how does it evolve as the story unfolds?
2. Over the course of Book Two, why does the Count decide to throw himself from the roof of the Metropol? On the verge of doing so, why does the encounter with the old handyman lead him to change his plans?
3. The Count’s life under house arrest is greatly influenced by his relationship with four women: Nina, Marina, Anna, and Sofia. What is the nature of the Count’s relationship with each of these women? How do those relationships differ from his relationship with the members of the Triumvirate—Andrey and Emile?
4. The majority of A Gentleman in Moscow is told in the third person from the Count’s point of view. There is, however, an overarching narrator with a perspective different from the Count’s. Initially, this narrator appears in footnotes, then in the “Addendums,” then in the historical introductions of “1930,” “1938,” and “1946.” How would you characterize this narrator? How does he differ from the Count in terms of his point of view and tone of voice? What is his role in the narrative?
5. In the “1946” chapter, Mishka, Osip, and Richard each share with the Count his perspective on the meaning of the revolutionary era. What are these three perspectives? Are you inclined to agree with one of them; or do you find there is some merit to each?
6. One of the pleasures of writing fiction is discovering upon completion of a project that some thread of imagery has run through the work without your complete awareness—forming, in essence, an unintentional motif. While I was very conscious of the recurrence of tolling bells, keys, and concentric circles in the book, here are a few motifs that I only recognized after the fact: Packages wrapped in brown paper, such as the Maltese Falcon, Mishka’s book of quotations, the Russian nesting dolls discovered in the Italians’ closet, and the Count’s copy of Montaigne (in Paris). The likeness of stars, such as the freckles on Anna’s back and the beacon on the top of the Shukhov radio tower. Sailors (often in peril), such as Robinson Crusoe, Odysseus, Admiral Makarov, and Arion in the myth of Delphinus. What role do any of these motifs play in the thematic composition of the book? And if you see me in an airport, can you explain them to me?
7. How does the narrative incorporate the passage of time, and does it do so effectively? Thematically speaking, how does the Count’s experience of Time change over the course of the novel and how does it relate to his father’s views as embodied by the twice-tolling clock? What does the novel suggest about the influence of individuals on history and vice versa?
8. At the opening of Book Five, the Count has already decided to get Sofia out of Russia. What occurs over the course of Book Four to lead him to this decision? Why does he choose to remain behind?
9. Near the novel’s conclusion, what is the significance of the toppled cocktail glass in Casablanca?
10. This is a novel with a somewhat fantastical premise set half a century ago in a country very different from our own. Nonetheless, do you think the book is relevant today? If so, in what way?
11. Bonus Question: Who in the novel also appears in Rules of Civility?