Amor Towles’s novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov followed none of these paths when the Bolshevik people’s court found him guilty in 1922 of being an aristocrat. Instead, he acted as a gentleman would, believing that “a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them” (p. 28). Certainly he attended to the practicalities of his reduced state, but he was also sure to treat those he encountered as a gentleman would–with respect, dignity, and a readiness to serve.
The count is not the only character we (or the count) meet. The brusque and creative chef, the distinguished maître d’, the willowy movie star, the bright and determined little girl, a nemesis who schemes against the count, the high Party official whom the count tutors and befriends–these and more move through the hotel and the scenes of a life well lived.
While character, rather than action or dramatic plot elements, dominate this captivating novel, Towles also excels in delightful descriptions and turns of phrase. It is simply a joy to read while it offers hope that we can still be human in the midst of difficult circumstances.