Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” is not on my bookshelves. The novel sits on the table beside my favorite spot on the sofa alongside magazines, eyeglass cleaner, a pen and a pad of paper. In other words, the novel is close at hand, just in case. Unlike most of my books, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is not unmarred. At first careful not to break the spine, I considered underlining just one passage: “But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstance were different was the only sure route to madness.” Soon though, I found myself arrowing, circling, starring, and exclamation-pointing my way through Towles’ 30 plus-year account of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov’s life as an un-person.
However, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is much more than an epic the reader gets to “witness.” It is a guidebook revealing how we can learn to live without and within. Living without the comforts to which we are accustomed drives some to desperation or deep depression. For some, living within means remaining in a perpetual state of meditation where few complications arise or developing a shield that prevents others from beholding their humanity and vulnerability. It means selfishness. Yet, the Count is neither selfish, desperate nor depressed, at least not for long. Instead, he is resilience.
When Count Alexander—who refuses with great wit to repent from his crime of aristocracy—is sentenced to house arrest in a hotel across the street from the Kremlin or be shot, he discovers abundance in his limitations. He is at once profoundly touched by the complicated and sweetly simple lives of those around him and touching, with his thoughtful practicality and gentlemanly considerations.
Towles has with keen intelligence and humor crafted a character study of wisdom, courage and kindness. I’ve never been sadder to finish a novel, but I look forward to reading it again, and again.