Saturday, March 09, 2019

Review of 'A Gentleman in Moscow' by Amor Towles

I really enjoyed this book, and then I watched the video of the author speaking about it, and now I feel a bit like I've been had, and that I shouldn't have liked it as much as I did.

It's set in Russia, and the eponymous hero is a very sympathetic and charming ex-noble who is sentenced to life imprisonment in a luxury hotel. He's not executed after the revolution by the victorious Bolsheviks because he'd earlier written a poem that inspired the revolutionary generation of 1905. The book is about how he makes the best of life in the hotel - the friends (and enemies) he makes, but also what he eats and drinks - over almost forty years.

It's beautifully written, and it's hard not to like the Count, who is a really nice person, kind and thoughtful and not at all arrogant...and I suppose that's my problem. It's an anti-Bolshevik, anti-socialist book - one of the themes is the way that hierarchy and patronage are inevitable features of any society. It's not as if I am a big fan of the Bolsheviks, let alone of how things turned out with their revolution. But there is not even a hint that not all was well with the Tsarist regime in Russia, though there is a tiny suggestion that the immediate post-revolutionary period was at least fluid and exciting. Almost all the actual Communists in the book are horrid, and most of the nice people are their victims. And I sort of feel that I've been had, that I've been seduced by an aristocrat with his delightful manners and his wit...learning that Amory Towles is a former investment banker makes it worse.

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