A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles

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How does A Gentleman in Moscow parallel Casablanca?

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In A Gentleman in Moscow, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to lifetime house arrest in Moscow’s most elegant hotel, the Metropol. While this might sound like a relatively desirable fate, he is removed from his luxurious suite and placed in a small, bare room in the hotel attic. Thus begins one of the most interesting adventures that a person living in confined circumstances could have. Over the course of several decades, he befriends many of the hotel guests and even adopts a young girl.

There are parallels between the book and Casablanca, Count Rostov’s favorite film. Both the Metropol and Rick’s nightclub in Casablanca provide a safe haven from the dangerous world outside. In Casablanca, the danger comes from the German occupation during World War II. In A Gentleman in Moscow, it is from the merciless Bolsheviks.

Casablanca is a way station for those seeking to leave war-torn Europe. Many of Rick’s customers witness the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. Similarly, many of the book’s characters experience the cruelties of the Bolsheviks. The atmosphere of both the hotel and Rick’s bar allows people to temporarily forget their fears.

There are also parallels between the main characters. Rick was once a freedom fighter but spends most of the film avoiding confrontation. (The “La Marseillaise” scene is an exception.) Similarly, the count also avoids conflict, engaging primarily in desultory activities even prior to his incarceration.

Yet, both heroes eventually take a stand against the oppressor. Rick gives Ilsa and Victor the letters of transit that will enable them to escape Casablanca so that Victor can continue to lead the resistance. Count Rostov decides that remaining in Russia is no way for his adopted daughter to live. He takes action and they escape.

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Casablanca and A Gentleman in Moscow both explore themes of living under repression because of government forces. In A Gentleman in Moscow, the main character is sentenced to house arrest but is told that if not for a poem he'd written years earlier in favor of the Bolshevik party, he would have been sentenced to death. The party has a suspicious hold over the whole environment of the novel, even causing a bar to remove the labels from wine bottles because they were considered too expensive, and against the ideals of the party. Casablanca is set during WWII and so the threat of death or imprisonment for disobeying governmental authority is even more present. The city of Casablanca itself represents a way out of this repression, as it is a city that many people pass through to escape Europe for America.

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A Gentleman in Moscow, written by Amor Towles, tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal. His crime is having written a 1913 poem with revolutionary undertones. As a member of the quickly disappearing Russian aristocratic class, he is unused to the confines of his sixth-floor attic room, where he is moved...

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following his sentencing.

At the beginning of his confinement, in 1922, the count's uselessness and purposelessness grate on him. At one point, he attempts to commit suicide. However, the author does not let his main character wallow in despair and stagnation; instead, by a series of meetings with colorful characters—including a curious young girl with a passkey to all the rooms at the Metropol, a flirtatious actress who attempts to seduce him, and an incompetent waiter known as "the Bishop"—he rises to the occasion and becomes head waiter. In this position he has the chance to meet famous figures from Russian history, namely Nikita Khrushchev and Josef Stalin.

Casablanca explores a very similar theme of exile. Set in the early years of World War II, it focuses on Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who runs a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. Rick's club becomes a haven for refugees attempting to flee to America with the use of illicit letters. Because he is pressured by the authorities, he agrees to detain Victor Lazlo, a Czech underground resistance leader. As fate would have it, his ex-lover Ilsa Lund (who is now married to Lazlo) accompanies him. They, too, are attempting to flee the country, but because of Rick's old wounds and feelings of betrayal, he is faced with a choice between helping his former lover escape or refusing such a service.

Not only is the movie directly referenced and watched in the novel (the author says it was one of his favorite movies in his youth), but the majority of the action in the novel takes place in locations with a very similar purpose to the locations in the film: centers for food, freedom, and music when the world around the characters is ravaged by oppression and political unrest. The Metropol and Rick's club both provide a refuge from the danger outside.

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