A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In December, when I was looking for my next audiobook, I checked all the lists of best books from 2016 and decided eventually upon Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow. I love Russian history and this book is set throughout the days of the early Soviet Union, so I was pretty sure this would be a hit for me. I wasn’t wrong.
From the start, I was hooked. The idea of a former Count, Alexander Ilyich Rostov, being put under house arrest in a Moscow hotel is intriguing for many reasons. First, how did he manage to escape being shot, like many other members of the Russian nobility? And how was he going to deal with being locked up in a single building for the rest of his life? And more importantly, how was the author going to make all this worth reading about?
These questions were definitely all answered (though I won’t spoil the book by saying how). I didn’t want to stop reading as Rostov learned to adjust to his circumstances gracefully, remaining a gentleman throughout the entire course of the book. I loved hearing his thoughts and seeing him meet new people and situations. I loved the writing and the story and the characters, even the ones I didn’t like so much (like the Bishop).
I think understanding Russian and Soviet history definitely added to the story for me, but I don’t think it’s necessary to know much about it before reading this book to be able to enjoy it, though maybe reading a Wikipedia article on this era would be helpful. (Plus, it’s a super interesting time and place to learn about, so why not?)
Regarding the audiobook, I wasn’t convinced it was the right format at first because it felt a little slow, but when I started to focus on the story more and the intro material was over, I really enjoyed the narration. I thought the tone and pacing were a great match to the story, and while it’s a definite time investment (around 18 hours!), I thought it was a worthwhile use of my time, especially since I was able to listen and multitask.
This book is already an early contender for favorites for the year and I definitely recommend it if you enjoy historical fiction that’s character driven. I gave it five stars and would happily read it again!