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).
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.)
1. Would you be able to live in a 100 sq. ft. apartment? Even with the space doubled?
2. Does the Hotel Metropole exist?
3. Did you enjoy the book, would you recommend it to others?
4. Was the plotting and descriptions plausible?
5. What was the author’s intent in writing this book?
6. Do you see the similarity between Nina and Heloise? How about comparing the Metropole and the Plaza?
7. How likely is it to have a person writing two best-selling books after a 20-year career as a successful hedge fund analyst? Do you know of other writers like this?
8. Why wasn’t the Count dealt with more harshly for signing his name to a poem that was perceived as critical of the revolution?
9. What did you learn about the character of the Russian aristocrat?
10. Is there evidence that a century after the revolution Russia that a new aristocracy”? Does the author address this?
Opening our book club discussion on January 15, 2019 there was spontaneous and universal praise for the book. Because of the short month and the length of the book we decided to discuss it in two parts encompassing two sessions. Some offered that they wished we could discuss the whole book. It was a quick and enjoyable read but discussing it all now would not be fair to those who stopped reading at the halfway point.
As in past sessions most of the group read a hard copy but a poll was not taken as it could have been considered judgmental. All eight participants joined in freely and seemed to be enjoying the session.
Most of the comments centered around these points: The skill and knowledge of the writer, the characterization of Count Rostov, the character of the hotel, and the contrast between life in and outside the confines of the Metropole. Each in the group had a hotel in their experience that mirrored the image of the count’s new residence but not the 100 sq. ft he was confined to or even when it was doubled. Some other similar “grand hotels” volunteered by the group were the Plaza Hotel in New York, The Ritz in Paris, the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne Switzerland, and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island Michigan.
Even though the Count was moved from Suite 317 to a tiny room on the 6th floor his demeanor as dignified, flexible, and consistent remained throughout. At no time did he depart from his character into something less than a perfect gentleman. He behaved while waiting tables in a no less dignified manner than he did as a guest on his day off.
The conditions in Bolshevik Russia carried out by a ruthless authoritarian government that vowed to shoot the Count on site if he ever left the hotel were described but not so as to impede on the story inside the hotel. The Count carried on an affair or at least a serious flirtation with a movie star who was a favorite of the party and assumed the role of father figure to two young girls who grew to women.
One of the group noticed that the gaps in action increased as the book went on. This was especially astute when it was discovered that the author carried a time doubling going forward and backward in the course of the book.
The unique happening of discussing only half had an adverse effect on spontaneity and completeness of the discussion which should be remedied next time when all will be able to have at the work without constraint.
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