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A Gentleman at Ursinus

Amor Towles, the internationally acclaimed novelist who wrote the bestseller Rules of Civility, visited the college to discuss his latest book, A Gentleman in Moscow.

The author’s visit was part of Montgomery County Libraries’ “One Book, One County” event. 

The novel follows Count Alexander Rostov, who has been sentenced to house arrest, or rather, hotel arrest in the renowned Metropol Hotel in Moscow.

The idea came to Towles as he traveled, he explained, staying in many of the same hotels year after year. He would see some of the same people sitting in the lobby exactly as he had remembered them.

“It was as if they had never left,” he said.

He was inspired to write a tale of someone who was confined to a hotel, thinking immediately of Russia, and jotting down his thoughts and ideas on hotel stationary. Despite never having studied its history in school, Russia soon became the unsolicited home of Count Alexander for the next 32 years.

Towles explained that living constraints were often put on people in Russia. “House arrest was very much a thing in Russia,” he said, adding, “If you were a little questionable they could give you the “minus six” rule. You could go anywhere but the six major cities.”

Others could have been exiled to Siberia, but for Towles, his imagination led him to picture the elegant hotel that stood in the middle of Moscow.

The Metropol, with its luxurious design, hot water, telephones, and fine international food, became a hub for both travelers and native Muscovites. It was the perfect backdrop for Count Alexander’s confined adventure, home to intrigue, political discourse, and all sorts of interesting characters passing through.

Towles provided visitors with a vivid background of the political and physical changes made to Moscow and the Metropol Hotel during the early 20th century, complete with projected maps and photographs of the city.

He kicked off a question-and-answer session, joking, “I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and if you don’t, then I’ll ask them myself.”

Questions ranged from “Why do all of the chapters begin with A?” To which Towles explained that he didn’t have a reason, but he enjoyed hearing reader theories about new beginnings and how he must have simply wanted to give a nod to his own first name, as well as to the main character’s name. 

Towles discussed his process for A Gentleman in Moscow. He started with a detailed outline that he worked on for about a year before moving onto a draft, which he reworked for another year or two before making significant revisions for the next two to three years, totaling a four-to five-year-long process. 

The author also announced that as of 24 hours before the event, award-winning actor Kenneth Branagh had officially signed on to star in and produce a TV adaptation of A Gentleman in Moscow.

The discussion was followed by a book signing in Bomberger Auditorium. –By Mary Lobo ’15