Amor Towles attracts 500 attendees to North Liberty reading

Prairie Lights hosted an event for best-selling author Amor Towles, writer of A Gentleman in Moscow.


Megan Conroy

Amor Towles discusses his book, A Gentleman in Moscow, at the North Liberty Recreation Center on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019.

Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

On Monday night, a gymnasium was filled with 500 fans — to see best-selling author Amor Towles. The event, hosted by Prairie Lights, had to be moved to North Liberty’s Community Centre because of its massive turnout.

“We sold 500 tickets,” said Sarah Prineas, Youth Fantasy author and associate of Prairie Lights. “There are a lot of people that are very, very happy he is here.”

It would be a feat to walk through a book section in most stores and not see Towles’ recent and best-selling novel A Gentleman In Moscow on a shelf for all to see. The novel, set in 20th-century Russia, follows a count who is held hostage at the Hotel Metropol over the course of three decades. With a constantly-changing cast of hotel guests and workers, the plot thickens with each page.

“Right off the bat, I knew that if I was going to take a protagonist and trap him in a hotel for 30 years, he shouldn’t be there by preference, he should be there by force,” Towles said to a captivated crowd. “And that made me think of Russia for some reason.”

The novel clocks in at more than 640 pages, but that doesn’t hurt the pace of the story, Prineas said.

“I think it’s a funny book in some ways,” she said. “It’s long, and the premise makes it sound like it’s very literary. It’s about a guy who is stuck in a hotel for 30 years, and you’re like, ‘This is going to be kind of a slog,’ and it’s totally not. It’s a page turner.”

The novel has been named a New York Times best-seller and was ranked “Best book of 2016” in over three massive press agencies including the Chicago Tribune and National Public Radio.

 The event was originally set during Towles’ cross-country research trip over the summer for his latest book, but was canceled due to conflicts. Still, with such an outpouring of eager fans, Towles came to Iowa just for this event, Prineas said. 

With a novel that covers so many years and specific time periods, there are still themes within it that never change, no matter the decade.

Related: Pico Iyer will read from his latest, “Autumn Light,” at Prairie Lights

“[The Count] ran into and experienced all of these people in the hotel,” event attendee Erin Sullivan said. “You never know when you’re having a conversation with someone what’s happening in their life.”

The book is loved by many readers for its perspective on a country that many Americans might not know much about, but one trait stands out when asking attendees what their favorite aspect of the book is: its prose.

“It’s a beautiful book,” event attendee Helen Burford said. “What was the most fun for me was the atmosphere and the language he used. He has such an attention to detail. It’s really engaging.”

During the reading, Towles shared anecdotes about the inception of the novel, bizarre bits of Russian-literature history that he sprinkled throughout the book, and his deep love of food that is also featured prominently in the novel.

The author also shared with the crowd the upcoming mini-series he and director Tom Harper plan to make of his novel, with plans for actor Kenneth Branagh to produce and play the lead role of the Count. 

Towles hopes to finish the first draft of his new novel soon, which follows the story of three teenage boys and child driving from Nebraska to New York.