Description

Amor Towles was born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. For his M.A. thesis, he wrote a series of five related stories that was published in the Paris Review in 1989.

Towles spent the next 20 years in the financial industry as director of research for Select Equity Group, an $18 billion hedge fund. During that time, he never gave up the dream of becoming an author. A decade into his financial career, he began work on a novel set in the Russian countryside, only to toss the manuscript after seven years. Finally, in 2006, he made another effort, this time succeeding with what would become his 2011 debut novel, Rules of Civility.

In 2013, Towles retired so he could devote himself to full-time writing. His second book, A Gentleman in Moscow came out in 2016. According to Towles, the book was inspired by a business trip two years earlier as he mused about guests at Le Richemont Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. He had noticed the same people on a previous trip, and he began to wonder what it would be like to be trapped, for decades, inside a hotel. Towles wrote his thoughts down on Le Richemont Hotel stationery, notes which he has kept to this day. (Adapted from the Public Summary).

 



Review

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov.

When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count 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 of exactly 100 sq ft. (later doubling his living by surreptitiously annexing the vacant room next door by connecting through the back of his closet), while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway 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 endeavors to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. (From the publisher and Wall Street Journal.)

 



Study Questions

Part II

1. Start with the Count. How would you describe him? Do you find him an appealing, even memorable character?

2. In what way does his gilded cage, his “prison” for decades, transform Count Rostov? How do you see him changing during the course of the novel? What incidents have the most profound effect on him? Consider the incident with the beehive and the honey.

3. The Metropol serves literally and symbolically as a window on the world. What picture does Amor Towles paint of the Soviet Union—the brutality, its Kafka-esque bureaucracy, and the fear it inspires among its citizens? What are the pressures, for instance, faced by those who both live in and visit the Metropol? Does Towles’s dark portrait overwhelm the story’s narrative?

4. Talk about Nina, who even Towles considers the Eloise of the Metropol. Nina helps the Count unlock the hotel (again, literally and symbolically), revealing a much richer place than the it first seemed. What do we, along with the Count, discover?

5. What is there about Casablanca that makes it the Count’s favorite film? What does it suggest about his situation?

6. Talk about the other characters, aside from Nina, who play an important part in this novel the handyman, the actress, his friend Mishka, and even Osip Glebnikov. Consider the incident with the honey and the bees on the roof top.

7. The Count was imprisoned for writing the poem, “where is it now?”, How critically did it question the purpose of the new Soviet Union. Can you make any comparisons now with Russia under Putin, 70-some years later?

8. Where you simply entertained, or did you learn?

9. Where the almost miraculous skills and aptitudes of Sophia believable? Did her genius arise to help the author get to the end with a bang?

10. Was the end up to the quality of the rest of the book, how do we suppose Sophia fared in America?

(Questions by litlovers)

 



Discussion

On February 12, 2019 the second discussion period for this book, A Gentleman in Moscow, reaffirmed the group’s original observation that this was a thoroughly delightful book. Discussion of character development centered mostly, nearly always, on the Count himself. One member musing on who would play the Count if this were a movie settled on the actor Adolphe Monjou. Each of the members seemed to be conjuring up their own
choice but nobody else came up with a better choice.

The brutality of the Bolshevik regime was clear to everybody and a prevailing attitude was that it did not seem likely that they would tolerate such a vivid characterization of the past regime that was overthrown. Then it was pointed out that somehow, amid all the horror, museums like the Hermitage and Summer Palace escaped with beauty from the old society. It was pointed out that this was different than what happened in China with Mao and the gang of four who ravaged art works and objects depicting the old imperial way.

Most thought the writing was splendid, but one pointed out that the writing to her was “point to point” factual, but lacked a rich descriptive character.

The ending was satisfactory to most, but some were uncertain about the “willowy” grey-haired woman in the tavern. One suspected it was Nina, but the majority said they thought she was the movie actress Anna. The two children who met the old and bearded Count on the road were thought to be, by one person, images of the Count and his sister from their days as children. One in the group pointed out that the ruins with only two chimneys standing stated “you can’t go home”.

Dropping Sophie in New York and leaving it at that didn’t bother most members. They thought she had been prepared and had the spunk to survive.

The group loved the book, thought it would be a good movie, and are eager to read the authors next effort.

 

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