Count Alexander Rostov finds himself bridging the expanse between two Russias, the one he grew up in as a wealthy and free aristocrat…and the one where he is confined to a hotel for the rest of his life as a punishment by the Bolsheviks. Towles beautifully weaves a tale of Rostov’s life in the Metropol hotel, with gentle, humorous, and touching transitions between the small events of hotel life, life long friendships, romance, philosophy, and political turmoil.
Towles skillfully brings together these differing subjects through an undulating prose that contains stories and vignettes that offer up life from its most humorous to the most tragic. Our A Gentleman in Moscow book club questions will guide you on a discussion through the elegant prose, charming characters, and thought provoking questions of this novel.
This discussion guide for A Gentleman in Moscow will help you learn more about the book and get the discussion going with a synopsis of the book, selected reviews, and discussion prompts.
If you enjoyed the book, keep scrolling, because we provide three recommendations for books like A Gentleman in Moscow.
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A Gentleman in Moscow Synopsis
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
10 A Gentleman in Moscow Book Club Questions
- “I’ll tell you what is convenient,” he said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka—and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”
If given the choice in his later years, do you think Rostov would have wished he could have stayed in his previous life, or would have chosen the one that actually happened? Why?
- What did you think about the principles and actions of the Bolsheviks in this novel?
- What do you think about the aristocracy that existed in the novel? Do you agree or disagree with what happened to them?
- What do you think about Nina and the choices she made with her life?
- “Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate and our opinions evolve–if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew.”
How do you think Rostov has changed as a person over the course of the book? How has he influenced those around him?
- Did you find any events or characters of the book particularly funny? Which ones?
- What do you imagine Rostov doing after the end of the book?
- How would you feel if you were confined to a hotel like the Metropol? Do you think you would have acted as Rostov did? Or perhaps differently?
- “Mishka would pine for Katerina the rest of his life! Never again would he walk Nevsky Prospekt, however they chose to rename it, without feeling an unbearable sense of loss. And that is just how it should be. That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”
There are many kinds of love stories in this book, familial, friendship, and romantic. Which story was your favorite?
- “We turn the gun on ourselves not because we are more indifferent and less cultured than the British, or the French, or the Italians. On the contrary. We are prepared to destroy that which we have created because we believe more than any of them in the power of the picture, the poem, the prayer, or the person.”
This novel discusses many aspects of Russian culture, what do you think of it? Did the book alter your perceptions of Russia?
Selected Reviews for A Gentleman in Moscow
“…I want to talk about the characters, about the deep and protean themes, and how much pure and unfettered fun this book was…Towles ruminates meaningfully on selfhood, friendship, parenthood and the devastating unattainability of modest hopes, and those ruminations are driven by a deep urge to make observations about people, to see them, really see them, in all their glorious, and sometimes mundane, glory. People, after all, “deserve not only our consideration,” writes Towles, “but our reconsideration.”
“What makes A Gentleman in Moscow a true work of historical fiction are Towles’ apt descriptions of life occurring outside of the Metropol’s walls…[the book] evokes an era of the tsar when the city rivals Paris and London as a destination for elite classes throughout Europe. A member of the landed aristocracy prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, Count Rostov is well versed in literature, history, and appears to be a true renaissance man. Through his relationship with Nina and Sofia, Towles shows the Count to have a genuine soft spot in his heart as well, turning him into a truly memorable character.”
“Spanning decades, A Gentleman in Moscow provides romance and political intrigue. It certainly is no small undertaking. Accordingly, the story does seem to drag at times. There was just so much time covered and so many changes occurring, while the Count’s life remained rather stagnant at times…While I was taken aback by the beauty of this story at times, I also found myself bored for much of this book. Sure, there were many things that I found to be quite interesting about the Count’s life and the ongoing commentary on Russia’s Bolshevik-era politics. However, I found my mind wandering frequently.
“[Towles] notes, “I generally like to mix glimpses of history with flights of fancy until the reader isn’t exactly sure of what’s real and what isn’t.” There’s much to love here, but it is important to understand it’s disconnect from reality…this is a highly specific, created view, not a grand window through time.”
3 Books Like A Gentleman in Moscow
The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles
If you enjoyed the writing of best selling author Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway is another great choice to experience more of his storytelling. Set in 1950’s, the story follows 3 young men after they leave incarceration, and start on a journey looking for their future, dreams, and home.
Read it for book club and use our discussion guide for your group.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Multiple award winning author Anthony Doerr writes a story following two children and their eventual meeting during the tumultuous events of WWII in France and Germany. This bestseller is a lyrical and beautiful interweaving of lives, battles between good and bad, and war time struggles. This is an excellent choice for a deep and thoughtful read.
We also have a book club guide for All the Light We Cannot See.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
A lavish birthday party at the Vice President’s turns upside down when terrorists take the entire party hostage. Set in South America, this story turns to a tale of friendship, relationships, music, and life as the terrorist and hostages interact.
With elegant prose and characters, this book is a great choice if you enjoyed the writing style of A Gentleman in Moscow.
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