A delightful yarn, an epic tale

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. Encore publication,First posted, Oct. 28, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow, history, epic, comic delight
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Not only is this novel a good yarn, it is an epic. In the classical definition, an epic hero is the most significant man in his culture, in the most significant age, participating in the most significant movement of his time. Think Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Virgil in the Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso trilogy and, in the modern age, Pug Henry in Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance series, who is present at the most important meetings and locales of World War II.

Such a person is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, an aristocrat by birth, whose manor house is in the Nizhny Novgorod Province of extreme Northwestern Russia, near Leningrad. When the Communists come into power, Rostov is held under house arrest beginning to June 20, 1922 until June 20, 1954, exactly 32 years, at the legendary Metropol Hotel on Theater Square within view of the Kremlin. According to his friend Mishka, Mihail Fyodorov Mindich, Rostov is the luckiest man in Russia. As a Former Person who has committed the offense of Poetry—earning banishment to hard labor in Siberia for his endeavors—he ought to know.

Indeed, from his vantage point at the center of the Russian universe, he is privileged to watch the functionaries of the new Soviet state and visitors from around the world pass through the gilded doors of this famous hostel, even serving the pivotal joint dinner of the Presidium and the Council of Ministers on June 16, 1954, where he overhears and passes along to this friend, the Russian ambassador and double agent in Paris, his observations of Nikita Khrushchev, as he manipulated the levers of power and laid the groundwork for his ascension to the post vacated by the death of Joseph Stalin, to become the new leader of the USSR.

This fast-moving drama unfolds with the precision, regularity and certainty of one of his few remaining possessions, his father’s custom-made, Breguet twice-tolling clock (at noon and midnight). This engrossing, passionate and historically accurate novel (to the extent that great fiction can be) is a humorous and delightful read for us all, whether students of world history or merely engaged observers of the human condition.

Till next time, good words to you,