Book Cover
A Gentleman in Moscow


★ ★ ★ ★

TL;DR: Count Alexander Rostov, a “former person”, is sentenced to house arrest for life in the Hotel Metropol in Russia. He is a man of culture and makes his experience of decades locked in a hotel quite uniquely colorful (though not without its low points).

Notes

  • The inner monologue of the Count is incrediblly rich. I think subconsciously I have tried to adopt parts of it, more likely than not for the better.
  • Tons of snippets incoming, I loved the writing in this book.

Snippets

It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be sitting at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands (4)

If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them. (18)

In the shapeless moments before the return to consciousness Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov savored the taste of the day to come. (19)

Imagining what might happen if one's circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness. (20)

The Count said this with the renowned glint in his eye--that little spark that had defused heated conversations and caught the eyes of beauties in every salon in St. Petersburg. (42)

With so little to do and all the time in the world to do it, the Count's peace of mind continued to be threatened by a sense of ennui--that dreaded mire of the human emotions. (54)

If a room that exists under the governance, authority, and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine. (64) [Tiger: this goes for spaces in general. Love it.]

Marina began stitching the Count's pants--the laying of locomotive tracks writ small, if you will (72)

"It is the business of the times to change, Mr. Halecki. And it is the business of gentlemen to change with them. [...] For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they sset into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother-of-pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness. (75)

Fate would not have the reputation it has if it simply did what it seemed it would do. (79)

While the splendors that elude us in youth are likely to receive our casual contempt in adolescence and our measured consideration in adulthood, they forever hold us in their thrall. (79)

Systematic in all matters of importance, Nina ate her ice cream one flavor at a time, moving from the lightest to the darkest in shade. Thus, having already dispatched her French vanilla, she was now moving on to a scoop of lemon, which perfectly matched her dress. (91) [Tiger: a perfectly written two sentences. So satisfying.]

A careful accounting of days allows the isolated to note that another year of hardship has been endured; survived; bested. Whether they have found the strength to persevere through a tireless determination or some foolhardy optimism, those 365 hatch marks stand as proof of their indomitability. For after all, if attentiveness should be measured in minutes and discipline measured in hours, then indomitability must be measured in years [...] attaning of the upper hand on the field of battle is measured in the instant. (109)

An educated man should admire any course of study no matter how arcane, if it be pursued with curiosity and devotion. (134) [Tiger: first instinct is to disagree, but I think the key is the second part. I have a pretty high bar for "devotion"]

Nina Kulikova was and would be a serious soul in search of serious ideas to be serious about. (186) [Tiger: relatable]

The Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confederacy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condescension with an inward smile. (196)

Sofia moved a little in order to set Dolly at her side and then accepted the book in a ready and determined manner. (240) [Tiger: "ready and determined". Simple but powerfully expressive.]

The Count's father believed that while a man should attend closely to life, he should not attend too closely to the clock. [...] If a man woke no later than six, engaged in a light repast, and then applied himself without interruption, by the hour of noon he should have accomplished a full day's labor. (244)

"If you are ever in doubt, just remember that unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in simple things." (253)

For all the varied concerns attendant to the raising of a child--over schoolwork, dress, and manners--in the end, a parent's responsibility could not be more simple: To bring a child safely into adulthood so that she could have a chance to experience a life of purpose and, God willing, contentment. (309)

Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. (339)

If serenity should be a hallmark of maturity, then impetuousness should be a hallmark of youth. (387)

For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim. (387)

When all was said and done, the endeavors that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivolous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats) had deserved their immediate attention. (391)

Summary

  • Count stuck in hotel
  • Makes great friends with Nina, a precocious girl living in the hotel.
  • Nina leaves hotel, shows up years later in a rush after getting involved with politics. Her husband has been sent to a labor camp and she must go after him, but she must leave her daughter Sofia with the Count at the hotel.
  • The Count ends up raising Sofia as his own daughter and doesn’t hear from Nina again
  • Sofia becomes a great musician and is invited to Paris to play.
  • The Count devises a plan wherein Sofia is able to escape to the American Embassy and his friend Richard Vanderwhile
  • The Count escapes and goes back to his hometown, and his lover, the actress Anna Urbanova