A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles

Hardcover, 2016

Status

Available

Genres

Collection

Publication

New York : Viking, 2016.

Description

"A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count 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 a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery..."--

Media reviews

Booklist
Booklist July 1, 2016 In his remarkable first novel, the best-selling Rules of Civility (2011), Towles etched 1930s New York in crystalline relief. Though set a world away in Moscow over the course of three decades, his latest polished literary foray into a bygone era is just as impressive. Sentenced as an incorrigible aristocrat in 1922 by the Bolsheviks to a life of house arrest in a grand Moscow hotel, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is spared the firing squad on the basis of a revolutionary poem he penned as an idealistic youth. Condemned, instead, to live his life confined to the indoor parameters of Metropol Hotel, he eschews bitterness in favor of committing himself to practicalities. As he carves out a new existence for himself in his shabby attic room and within the magnificent walls of the hotel-at-large, his conduct, his resolve, and his commitment to his home and to the hotel guests and staff together form a triumph of the human spirit. As Moscow undergoes vast political changes and countless social upheavals, Rostov remains, implacably and unceasingly, a gentleman. Towles presents an imaginative and unforgettable historical portrait.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2016 Booklist

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“Fate would not have the reputation it has, if it simply did what it seemed it would do.”

“If patience wasn’t so easily tested, then it would hardly be a virtue...”

In 1922, at thirty years of age, Count Alexander Rostov, is placed under house arrest, for being a unrepentant aristocrat. He is to spend the next thirty years at the Metropol, a grand hotel, across the street from the Kremlin. This wonderful, beautifully written novel, chronicles the count's life, over these decades, inside this enclosed interior. As history unfolds outside, life remains insulated, although the Count learns to evolve with the times, in quiet, subtle ways.
I am going to be vague on the details of this story, so the reader may experience it, the way I did, with glorious ignorance, but there is so much to admire, between these pages but the biggest joy is seeing this world, through the eyes of the Count, one of the best fictional characters, I have ever encountered and it sure helps, that the Count is an obsessive reader, which we can all relate to.
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LibraryThing member stellarexplorer
I’m not sure when I last read a book as delightful and smart as this one. Count Alexander Rostov, cultured young gentleman of the old Russian aristocracy, has run afoul of the new Soviet regime, and is sentenced to live under permanent house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. And so ends the unfettered period in a formerly vigorous and expansive life. A novel that takes place almost entirely within one structure, however grand and intricate, might feel claustrophobic. Anything but! For the Count is a reservoir of deep inner strength, of manners, of commitment to an identity, and every page crackles with the authenticity of his personhood.

The writing here is impeccable. Many times I was tempted to turn to those around me to read a particularly enchanting passage. It was hard to do so, because such lines are the fulfillment of a chain of description and preparation, of which the felicitous ending is but the fitting culmination. The prose is charming, concise, unadorned, and elegant.

This is a book of sublime miniatures: A sister’s silver scissors fashioned in the shape of an egret has a golden screw at the pivot representing an eye. And immense ideas as well. The vastness of inner life confronts the constraint of the external. Enduring values are set against the inevitability of change. Tolstoy’s view of history gurgles always in the background, as the reader grapples with the relationship of individual action with the impenetrable play of events.

I laughed, I cried and I called out in appreciative satisfaction. Loose ends duly tied up, with interest. A banquet served in words, best savored slowly. This is everything a book should be. Run, don’t walk.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but as it progressed I became more engaged in the story and the many sub-stories within the book.

Resourceful 32 y.o. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the elegant Moscow Metropol Hotel and his residence is moved from a second floor luxury suite to the 6th floor belfry in 1922. His crime: being born into the Tsarist aristocracy. As Stalin's grip clenches Russia, the Count, after a bout of depression, goes about setting up a life within the confines of the Metropol. Nine year old Nina, who is also temporarily confined to the hotel, provides the key(s) that release him from depression and provides him with all he needs to create a world within the Metropol.

If one is confined, then one must set about establishing means to acquire life's essentials: food, beverage, clothing, meaningful work, and love. Alexander finds all of these things within the Metropol. He establishes relationships with the chef, the bar tender, the seamstress, a returning actress, and adult Nina returns to leave her daughter, Sophia, with the the Count.

There are many small stories within the larger story that enhance the entertainment value of the novel. There is a clandestine assembling of a secret midnight meal in the middle of the siege on Moscow during WWII. There is ongoing relationship with Soviet General Osip in which the Count mentors him in the underpinnings of western culture. That relationship turns to the Count's advantage in the end. There are several other entertaining sub-stories embedded in the book, which I found delightful.

The book is structured almost like Russian nesting dolls: time is condensed in the first and last part of the book, while the time periods between chapters expand outward in the center of the book, which is the time covering the Great Depression and WWII.

The author has done a great job of putting together a thought provoking, multilayered story, that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
Hey, this book has already gotten over 2,500 reader reviews at Amazon and is still in the top twenty books there, so what the hell more can I say? Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian nobleman,is arrested by the Soviet secret police in the 1920s, designated a "former person," and summarily sentenced to permanent house arrest in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where he spends the next thirty years. Strangely, it is a richly full life, one which provides him with all kinds of loyal friends and even, most unexpectedly, a family of sorts.

A Gentleman in Moscow is not at all what I had expected, and I'm glad. Because it is that delightful kind of literary surprise that simply enchants its readers. I'm not often "enchanted" by a book, crusty old fart that I consider myself, but this book had that kind of magic to it, all 460-plus pages. That's quite a hat trick. But I loved all of it. Bravo, Mr. Towles. And all those rave reviews? Well deserved. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
"....several duly goateed officers of the current regime determined that for the crime of being born an aristocrat, I should be sentenced to spend the rest of my days....in this hotel." And so begins Count Alexander Rostov's peculiar/absurd punishment at the luxurious hotel Metropol in Moscow. A reader might think that a book of almost 500 pages recounting his day to day life in one building would be tedious, repetitive and dull. Not so! Rostov's imprisonment is anything but! In the early to mid 20th century, as the world outside the Metropol changes, the Count retains his aristocratic lifestyle while still befriending those from the working class. Intriguing, beautiful and beguiling guests of the hotel add spice to his life and there's never a reason for Rostov to be alone or listless. Author, Towles, delivers a masterful story. It's smart, it's well paced. The characters are lovable and there are some who are despicable. It is a marvelous read, one which should be savored and enjoyed.… (more)
LibraryThing member lit_chick
2016, Penguin Audio, Read by Nicholas Guy Smith

Publisher’s Summary: adapted from Audible.com
A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count 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 a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

My Review:
“… if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” (18)

The Count’s elegant, impeccable manners and his distinguished diplomacy are a delight. And the novel’s numerous and varied characters are the perfect companion to the his endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. In one of my favourite scenes, Rostov is explaining to young Nina how we owe the generations that have come before us a debt of gratitude – not simply the grand dukes and grand duchesses, but elders of all social classes who have come before us:

“The principle here is that a new generation owes a measure of thanks to every member of the previous generation. Our elders planted fields and fought in wars; they advanced the arts and sciences, and generally made sacrifices on our behalf. So by their efforts, however humble, they have earned a measure of our gratitude and respect.” (50)

Beautifully written, and so memorable. I was reminded more than once of Chekov’s short story “The Bet,” in which, ironically, a man’s imprisonment leads to his discovering the true meaning of life. Narrator Nicholas Guy Smith is extraordinary! Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
A simply marvelous book: marvel of a plot and a distinctively uplifting writing style - mildly philosophical, but not overbearingly so. I have to say that the story simply tugged at my heart, without being melodramatic. The reader steps into the shoes of Count Rostov, a "Former person", an aristocrat, in those turbulent years after the Russian revolution and on, until 1954. What can be more inspiring than to find happiness in any circumstances, even under house arrest, to create a totally new life for oneself and not give your "prison guard" (KGB in this instance) the benefit of gloating over your circumstances that have changed so drastically with the change of government.... The character of Count Rostov reminds me in a way of another favorite protagonist - Erast Fandorin from Boris Akunin's novels (his ruminations, his sense of dignity, integrity and ethics have a similar feel...). A wonderful read.… (more)
LibraryThing member EBT1002
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is put under house arrest at a grand hotel in Moscow in 1922. This is the story of his life therein. The Count's life is peopled with a variety of engaging characters, exquisite wine and food, and all the usual travails of love and attachment. His heart is large, his capacity for joy and heartbreak consistent with his poet's soul. The story is wonderful. The writing is exceptional! I kept stopping to reread a sentence or two, relishing Towles' remarkable gift for putting a set of words together perfectly. This isn't stuffy, flowery prose. It is the finest application of the craft of writing. If I could give A Gentleman in Moscow more than five stars, I would not hesitate to do so.… (more)
LibraryThing member larryerick
Back in high school, one of my English teachers had us read a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which, as I recall, was The Scarlett Letter. When some of the students failed to go into rhapsody over it, she quickly informed us it was the perfect novel. I don't think any of us believed her, regardless of how much we may have tolerated having read the book. It didn't help that she never tried to explain to us why it was the perfect book, so... Up until now, I had no idea what she was talking about. This book may be the most beautifully crafted novel I have ever read. Is it new or exciting literature? Not really. One might go so far as to call it old fashioned. I thought back to Charles Dickens and George Eliot when I first started reading it. It has absolutely none of the flair of unreality that seems so popular now with the critics of modern fiction: Sanders' Lincoln in the Bardo, Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, Beatty's The Sellout, etc. On the other hand, this book has a consistently crafted and laid out narrative with a keenly distinguished set of characters throughout, all tied to together step by step with just enough new aspects and conflicts that the reader is rarely able to anticipate exactly what will happen next. Woven through out the book is commentary on communism, government in general, including bureaucracy and bureaucrats, and society's adjustments to whatever gets thrown its way. And yet, it never struck me as being the least bit preachy. Here's what people do, it would say, while letting the reader discover the judgments hidden in the string of words. Having said all this, I should acknowledge that this is one of those fairly rare times that I took the child's route to an adult book and listened to the audio book while reading along in the hardcover. An American writes a book about Russians and an Englishman reads it all to you. The audio narration was outstanding and a perfect complement to the words in the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member sblock
Where to begin. I am a better person for having read this book.
LibraryThing member eyes.2c
Spell binding! Elegant!

The superlatives reviewers have lavished on this novel are well deserved. This is an enthralling, all consuming window into life in Moscow from the pre 1920's through to the 1950's, from Stalin and the Bolsheviks through to Nikita Khrushchev.
We view the microcosm of what's happening in Russian history through the eyes of the man 'in the bubble' Count Alexander Rostov, who in 1922 was confined for life to the Metropol Hotel, across from the Kremlin, by a Bolshevik tribunal.
Mentored by his godfather and guardian, the Grand Duke Demidov, Alexander recalls the Grand Duke's words, 'if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.' These words mark the way Alex moves forward.
How the sophisticated, urbane Count Alex handles his incarceration is wonderfully told. His acquaintances are like a panoply of stars spread out beneath Alex's new sky, the ceiling of the Metropol.
His meeting with, and continued relationship with the fascinating child Nina, the harsh realities of the changes in the politburo, the advancement of small minded individuals like the inept waiter the Bishop, contrasted to the kindliness of some of the more urbane true believers.
Of the many friends Alex makes amongst hotel staff four stand out; Andrey, the maître d’ of the Boyarsky Restaurant, Emile the chief, Vasily the concierge and Marina the hotel seamstress.
His world, in one fell swoop narrowed, is in reality enlarged through the people he becomes acquainted with. There are his friends from the past. The angst of his writer friend Mishka, an expert on Chekov. And not to be disregarded a new friend, the actress Anna Urbanova.
There's Nina the young girl who grows into a fervent young woman, typical of her generation committed to the communist ideals. Her fanatical absorption with change for the common good that at times prove disastrous reflecting the broad sweep of political, social and economic change that forgot to involve the people and it's way replaced one tyranny with another.
A startling set of circumstances give him Sofia, the child he was to mind for a month, the daughter he unexpectedly acquires. She brings light and meaning to his life.
Abram the handyman he encounters on the roof and from whom he learns the secrets of coffee and the miracle of the bees. A wonderful interlude that helps Alex retain his equilibrium.
And the others, Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, a former colonel of the red army, a Party man who comes to Alex to be educated in understanding the privileged classes of those countries Russia wants to enter into economic and political discussions with. England, France and America...and how they view the world. The American psyche needed to be understood. For over fifteen years they read literature, discussed and watched films together. Their run down on Casablanca is superb.
A life lived within the confines of the hotel that Alex somehow ironically lived to the full, discovering new emotional truths, new revelations.
Layers within layers are revealed within the story like the Russian nesting dolls Alex at one time unwraps, layers of meaning and revelation that are just as painstakingly and beautifully crafted.
This novel is pure poetry, gift wrapped in vivid and taut prose.
An amazing read!

A NetGalley ARC
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
I flat out amor Amor Towles. I loved Rules of Civility and the followup e-story, but this might even be the better novel. The story itself - a White Russian count is sentenced to exile in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow (a real hotel, now in its 105th year!) when he returns from Paris during the Russian Revolution - is such a creative concept. But the execution is almost flawless, with the exception of perhaps a few too many characters. Count Alexander Rostov is everything one would want in a hero, and his family background, while privileged, does not seem to be excessively oppressive to the kulaks and peasants on the estate (although there is minimal information about this, so I judge only by his recollections). He is thoughtful, calm, and considerate of all whom he encounters in his limited hotel world. His flexibility extends to the Bolshevik regime, which is gently taunted by the count and the author.

From 1992, at age 30, until 1954, the count nurtures a talented young student, balances his old friends and the new authority, maintains a quirky romance with a passionate movie star, and eventually becomes the Head Waiter at the renowned Boyarsky Restaurant at the hotel.

The tale is told with such warmth and humor that we must forgive the author for going on a bit too long - it is to savor, like all the fine cuisine, drink, and loyal friendships that permeate this extraordinary novel.
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LibraryThing member BDartnall
ount Alexander Rostov finds himself quickly becoming an anachronism in his own time: the Russian Revolution has resulted in a quickly changing political & societal landscape. Aristocrats and landed gentry families such as his are rapidly sinking in the rising tide of communist fervor and political change. In 1922, Rostov is found guilty by a Bolshevik tribunal (awkwardly, while he was a supporter of the pre-revolutionary efforts, noted by the committee, he continued to live as a gentleman, one of the 'leisure class' in a large suite at the Metropol Hotel). Rather than be sentenced somewhere in Siberia, the tribunal sentences him to indefinite house arrest: if he ever steps foot outside the Metropol Hotel, he will be arrested and shot. The Count is removed from his grand suite and takes up residence in some tiny garrett rooms near the belfry at the top floor of the hotel.
What in the world takes up the next 440 pages? How can one man's years sequestered in a Moscow hotel be that interesting or absorbing? Here is the genius of Amor Towles - to so completely inhabit the cheery, cosmopolitan character of Rostov: his viewpoints, his musings over his past years & the twists and turns of Russian history, his enjoyable and serendiptious friendships with hotel staff, with regular and irregular visitors to the Metropol, with a famous Russian actress, with a curious 13 yr old named Nina, a frequent longterm guest with her parents, with an American ambassador, an American military attache, & even a powerful Politboro apparatchik who requires monthly dinners with Rostov, for years, to educate him in the viewpoints of "the privileged classes", especially of French & English. His extended observations (on points of honor, of the pleasures of good wine/ well prepared food, the delights of both the Russian countryside and its customs as well as those of Moscow, & the ebb and flow of consequences and human nature, for ex) are not tiresome, but so entertaining I willingly went down any rabbit trail from the plot. Stylistic masterful, subtly insightful, with a quietly heroic gentleman of Moscow- the book requires unhurried time, but once you submerge, you'll be glad you did!
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LibraryThing member grandpahobo
Brilliant storytelling.
LibraryThing member eachurch
A stylish, yet charming, philosophical novel about what gives life meaning and how to respond to adverse circumstances with grace. Towles explores the meaning and importance of love, friendship, kindness, and what it means to be a parent. Part of the story's charm is that it isn't very realistic.
LibraryThing member deeEhmm
Look - make no mistake, this is a fairy tale novel about a gentleman who actually embodies what we all wish a gentleman should be, just as the fairy-tale kings and queens actually embody noble qualities. Still, its delightful humor, sometimes thrilling drama, and rich historical underpinnings make it a wonderful read. Born into the aristocracy pre-revolution in Russia, the hero is sentenced for life imprisonment in a luxury hotel located across the street from the Kremlin. And through this lens, his life and the life of his nation unfold in intriguing, somber, and wondrous detail. Enjoy this today, critique it intelligently tomorrow. I promise I will read your review.… (more)
LibraryThing member seeword
What a great way to survey the history of Communist Russia! This novel begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest for life--in the elegant Moscow Hotel Metropol and ends in 1954. Although he can't leave the hotel, a cast of interesting characters--hotel employees and guests--keep him well informed about the goings on in the world. Rostov is a charming fellow and this is a charming book.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the Metropol hotel in Moscow. He will be shot if he steps outside the doors.

Taking place over the first half of the 20th century, this is the story of how people influence one another, widen their views and survive. In spite of the imprisonment, one rarely feels confinement while reading. The Count makes you want to be a better person. I have read spy novels, I have read histories, but this is the first book I have read which humanizes the process the Russian people went through after the Revolution. It is not written to make the reader sit in judgement for or against, but to empathize and perhaps understand. Yet it is written from a decidedly Western point of view on the events.

I will be reading this again, not for the history, but for the pure enjoyment of being with the characters and in the hotel.
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LibraryThing member cmt100
Simply one of the finest books I have ever read.
LibraryThing member m_k_m
Sweet and sentimental in the best ways. It's also witty, insightful and life-affirming. Everything that has happened to you brought you to where you are now.
LibraryThing member hubblegal
It’s 1922 and the Bolshevik Tribunal has sentenced Count Alexander Rostov to house arrest due to writing a revolt-encouraging poem. He’s considered a hero to some or otherwise he would have been shot. His current residence is the Metropol so there he’s sent to serve his sentence. If he sets foot outside of the Metropol, he will be shot. He’s taken from the beautiful suite he was living in and is put in a small attic room. The hotel is a large one but as time goes on, the walls shrink in as Count Rostov longs to join the rest of the outside world. Count Rostov has gone from being a privileged aristocrat to a “Former Person”.

This is an intelligently written book that manages to grab your heart as it teaches you about the Russian world and people. The cast of colorful characters are all absolutely delightful. There is much more humor in his newest effort than in his first book. This is also a very personal insight into the horrors of Russian rule. But the horrors don’t take center stage in Mr. Towles’ latest; rather the indomitable human spirit is in the spotlight and truly shines in this compelling book.

Amor Towles has surpassed his debut novel with this one and I don’t say that lightly as I loved “Rules of Civility”. I long to see “A Gentleman in Moscow” made into a PBS series. An uplifting, wise, completely charming novel and one of my personal favorites of 2016. Highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member purpledog
I have had the hard cover book for months and just never got around to reading it despite being at the top of my TBR pile. I wish I had read it sooner because it has become one of my all time fiction favorites. I rank it right up there with other books I loved, The Hobbit, Outlander and The Bronze Horseman.

The story is of Count Alexander Rostov's house arrest in the Metropol hotel in Moscow after the fall of the Czar. The story is about how he copes with his situation, and even thrives, and the friendships he formed over time.

The prose is nothing short of eloquent and is some of the best I have read in a long time. The depiction of Count Rostov is spot on. This is a book I will reread again and again.
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LibraryThing member noblechicken
A bloated, bureaucratic novel, so much detail and some points a waste of words. The Count's story is an intricate one, and at times fascinating, quite visual and detailed. But sometimes it gets labored in the author's own sense of importance in the story. Sometimes the narrative flourish works charmingly well, other times it's just overblown, pretentious and wordy for its own sake. Clever or conceited? I'm obviously outvoted on this, but that is my take.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
This will end up in my top five for the year I’m pretty sure. It’s subtle, charming, enchanting and well-crafted. If you like William Boyd, particularly Any Human Heart or Sweet Caress, I think you will like this, too. Instead of sending his character into the world to bump up against major events and find purpose, Towles confines his character to the Metropol Hotel and brings the world to him. It isn’t a book with a plot that dominates all. Instead it is almost a book of hours. How does Count Rostov fill his days now he’s a prisoner and no longer a Count? What fulfills him? What challenges him? Does he find love? It’s really an amazing piece of fiction and does what I think fiction should - entertains, educates and uplifts. Bravo!… (more)
LibraryThing member ericlee
This is one of those books that I started to read, put aside, and then picked up much later and decided to give it a second chance. And it's a good thing that I did.

This book tells the most improbable of stories. A tsarist aristocrat who is placed under house arrest in an elegant Moscow hotel in 1922 and stays there, for decades, forbidden to leave. While I normally love books set in Russia in the twentieth century, that was not actually the real appeal of this one. And I think I was actually put off by the first few pages, which purport to be the protocol of the court decision to allow Count Alexander Rostov to avoid jail. I thought they sounded wrong, and was unable to suspend disbelief.

But on second reading, that didn't matter. Nothing about the book is meant to be real. The bloody twentieth century in Russia gets barely a mention. There is no violence to speak of. No one is dragged off by secret police in the middle of the night. Instead, the focus is the noble character of the Count and the friendships he forms while confined to the luxurious Metropol. And what wonderful friendships they are.

One cannot read the book and not be moved. I smiled (a lot), I sometimes felt sad, and I worried about what will happen to this character or that. I was engaged with this imaginary Moscow, which has little in common with the one that actually existed. A Gentleman in Moscow is above all a human story, gentle and warm and full of love. I highly recommend it.
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