Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles

It took me a while to get through this book only because life interrupted. If not, I surely would have been bleary-eyed at the end of a binge reading weekend. It would have been my loss as this book is meant to be savored like a fine wine in perfect union with an equally fine meal and milieu. Mr. Towles is a master, it is that good.

This is the first contemporary novel I’ve read that is one-hundred percent Russian. If there are more like it then I am hungry for them. The language is poetic. The scenes and sub-plots reveal an old Russia over clouding an even older Russia, pre-1917 classicism giving way to the Bolsheviks and what they wrought. Characters are superbly painted, but not too quickly. Contrasts between the old and new are deft and revealed at a pace that befits the times. The pages are filled with irony, wit, gamesmanship, integrity and the lack of it, and the sort of stories that make it seem real, the kind that real families and friends share. Relationships tend to be of the old kind. You know, back when people used to open their lives up to one another as good friends have always been meant to do.

If forced to limit this review to one word it could easily be done: Bravo!

Coincidentally, I was also re-reading Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography at the same time as part of a study project. There came a point when reading the two works in parallel began to form a troubling image in my mind of our current and possibly near-future states. The similarities between the changes of that time to our own are sometimes stark, stunning, and chilling. One hopes we will be smart enough to remember old lessons, but that does not seem to be the case these days.

For lovers of smart fiction and superb writing, this one is a must.

A Gentleman in Moscow

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