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I recently listened to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles on Audible. (Click here to download your copy of this audiobook for free!) This book had been on my to-read list for a while, and it turned out to be one of those books that struck my imagination in so many ways!
The story centers around Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian nobleman and bon vivant who, in 1922, is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to spend his remaining days living in Moscow's Metropol hotel; his sentence carries the threat of a firing squad if he leaves the hotel's grounds. I've read interviews in which Mr. Towles notes that he chose Russia of this era because odd "life sentences" were unique to that setting. The Russian setting is, in many ways, immaterial to the plot of the story. The tiny world within the Metropol's walls could be constructed anywhere at any time, as the story's theme of finding gentility and beauty in any circumstance shines through.
A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Rustov's adventures and interactions, triumphs and sorrows over the 30+ years he resides at the Metropol. Some reviewers have called the book a bit too twee in its portrayal of post-Revolutionary Russia and, indeed, there are times when it feels like Doctor Zhivago has taken up residence at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Certainly, the novel is framed in the sensibilities of its author, an American investment banker turned writer. The novel's beauty lies less in its historical accuracy or political sensibilities than in its exploration of the idea that Count Rustov built friendships and lived a remarkable life within the walls of his captivity. The world within the Metropol seems as layered and nuanced as any international travel, and even stripped of his title, the Count's character embodies gentility and nobility at every turn. I eagerly await the British TV adaptation of the work, and can't imagine any actor better suited to the Rostov role than Kenneth Branagh.
I'm fairly new to audiobooks; I particularly enjoyed this format for A Gentleman in Moscow for a couple of reasons. First, as with any book set in Russia, the names get tricky, and it's often quite cumbersome to recall diminutive forms. Second, the early chapters of the work are a bit slow, and the narration by Nicholas Guy Smith infuses humor and good nature into the Count and his friends and colleagues as the reader comes to know them all. I find that audiobooks on Audible are great for work car trips as well as while I'm sitting at my desk doing administrative tasks. I pair my phone's Audible app through my car's Bluetooth and through the speaker in my office. Both setups provide a far richer sound quality than if I merely press play on the phone.
If you love epic novels or tales of manners and social class, you'll love A Gentleman in Moscow. Try it on Audible for free and let me know what you think!