Little did Katey know that when she and her best friend, Evey, went out to ring in the new year of 1938 that she’d be ringing in a new relationship that would introduce her to the moneyed Upper East Side social scene of New York City. Meeting people with names like Tinker and Bitsy, Katey gets drawn into this scene, even as she continues to work her own way up the business ladder, using her wiles and wit. But while Katey does hold onto her scruples – or her own rules of civility , if you will – she does become tangled in a web of love triangles that both highlight and transcend social class status.
There is so much to be said about this book. Most importantly, the writing just downright beautiful. This prose by Towles often verges on the poetic. The phrasing and the images that are drawn with words are so vivid that I was forced to read some passages multiple times, just to really appreciate them fully. The author has a true gift that he is generously sharing with us here.
The characters are also so gracefully drawn. From their subtle tics to their happy or hapless (depending on the character) wit, you cannot help feeling compassion for each and every one of them. And each and every one of them is neither all good or all bad – much like the real world. And Katey is the kind, vulnerable, and yet steady heroine we all aspire to being.
What I appreciate most about this book is the underlying current of friction between money and honor. As Katey mixes more with those of the upper class, she sees some who feel they should earn the money they have and others who feel they just deserve it. And in this era of Trump and the Republican Party’s shameful and frightening abuse of both money and power, the statement of honor and kindness triumphing over greed in this story is particularly poignant.
A lyrical and delightful book – highly recommend!
We meet Count Alexander Rustov in June of 1922, as he is pronounced guilty of having written a poem that was felt to incite potential action against the Kremlin. He is sentenced to house arrest, but as it happens, his “house” is the Metropol Hotel, one of Moscow’s finest international hotels. As he is resettled into a much smaller room than the one to which he’s grown accustomed, he adjusts his life and his expectations to the confines of his restricted quarters. When he very soon meets a young girl of 9 years named Nina, his life changes dramatically and he learns that life can lead you in very unexpected directions even when you cannot leave the very confines of your home.
The writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous. While the story is related with the lofty verbiage to which a count of Rustov’s caliber and sophistication is accustomed, Amor Towles blends wit and warmth with such mastery that the result has the reader smiling throughout the many pages of this book. Here is an example of the imagery that is used so brilliantly:
“Like the wheeling of the stars… That is how time passes when one is left waiting unaccountably. The minutes relentless. And the seconds? Why, not only does every last one of them demand its moment in the stage, it insists upon making a soliloquy full of weighty pauses and artful hesitations and then leaps into an encore at the slightest hint of applause.” (P 353)
In addition, each of the characters adds much color to the palate of this book. As Alexander insinuates himself into the inner workings of the hotel, he befriends staff and guests alike, and the reader has the pleasure of their company as well. The setting inside the hotel also gives the reader an appreciation of the interplay between Russian international relations and the insular attitude of communism.
I don’t often categorize books as “Must Reads” because I feel this should be kept exclusive, but I’m doing it here. A Gentleman in Moscow is absolutely a “MUST READ!”