“If a man does not master his circumstances, then he is bound to be mastered by them”. How true this is? Doesn’t every one of us toil every day to master the situations we are in as best as we could?
Alexander Ilyich Rostov is no exception. Having narrowly escaped being summarily executed, he finds himself placed under house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in reduced circumstances. He realizes that he has only two options; that is to master the circumstances or to be mastered by them. Happily, for us readers, he chooses the former and we read with delight how he accomplishes this end, step by step.
A Gentleman in Moscow is truly an inspirational story. It teaches you courage, endurance, and optimism. It teaches you how to be happy in small pleasures in life. And it also teaches you the value of good friends and companions which sometimes are taken for granted.
Count Alexander Rostov is an unforgettable character. Determined to master his circumstances, he changes his daily routine, makes friends, finds love and companionship, works, and raises a child. Not for a single moment he dwells in self-pity or on regrets. The Count is a man of resolution, a fictional role model. He is not perfect; he has his faults. Yet, he is a man anybody could love wholeheartedly.
Additionally to the story of the Count, we see a socio-political commentary on Russia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and under the Bolshevik government. The drastic and subtle changes that take place both socially and economically under the new regime are detailed through the observant eye of the Count as he witnesses them without moving a step from the Metropol hotel.
With a loving protagonist, an interesting ensemble of characters, an original plot, and beautiful prose, Amor Towles takes the reader through a wonderful journey. At times, it is realistic, and at others, fanciful. There were even unbelievable instances. But nothing diminished my interest in the story. I specifically enjoyed the comic touch produced by the witty dialogues. If I have any complaint, it is that I would have preferred a more connected flow in the story than Towles’s preferred episodic manner.
On a little deeper reflection, I was truly awestruck by the choice of the story by Towles. Here he introduces a protagonist who, at the outset of the story, is placed on house arrest for life. And what a dreary life it is for him having forfeited his freedom. But Towles takes the story on such a course that Count Rostov becomes the luckiest man alive! Despite being placed under house (or rather a hotel) arrest, he makes great friends (including powerful and influential ones), meets a woman to love, and gets to raise a child! All these things might not have come his way had he not been placed under arrest. Sometimes, the worst circumstances we find ourselves in, are the beginning of some beautiful happenings. Thank you, Amor Towles, for reminding us that in every dark cloud there always is a silver lining.