Moscow of the 1920’s is haunted by years of shifting political philosophies. The Bolsheviks are in power, “liberating” wealth from the aristocrats, nationalizing property, and advocating for the working class, while it works its way to a formal communist society. It is here in Moscow where we are introduced to the young gentleman Count Alexander Rostov, whose family estate is confiscated, and the Count is sentenced to house arrest in the grand hotel Metropol.
What a lovely man author Amor Towles creates in Count Rostov - unrepentant, light-hearted, with a child-like curiosity. Rostov is condemned to live in an attic room of the hotel and must never set foot outside its doors. The Metropol is truly a grand hotel with fine dining, a lively bar, and animated cast of guests and employees, where Rostov finds a way to thrive within its confines. His imprisonment allows him to build deep and lasting relationships with the staff and guests alike, including an actress, American diplomat, a Bolshevik officer, journalists, as well as the hotel seamstress, chef, and maitre d’, among others.
One of the most important characters is a precocious child living as a guest in the hotel, Nina. The Count becomes Nina’s de facto mentor and co-conspirator, and they help each other explore the hidden nooks and secrets of both the building and its guests. Eventually Nina leaves for school and marriage, but years later, she returns with a daughter of her own. Nina must travel in search of her missing husband and leaves her daughter, Sofia, in Rostov’s care. What happens next is an emotional awaking and benevolence that surpasses anything he’s known before.
For decades, we follow the Count’s exploits and daily routines, and we discover how each of the people he’s encountered throughout his forced stay at the Metropol influence and affect his life and actions. We see Rostov grow wise and clever, yet never lose his humor, kindness, and aristocratic air. The novel is not a brief one, and I have to admit, the first half took a bit of perseverance. Once Sofia came on the scene, however, I couldn’t put A Gentleman in Moscow down. Here is where his friendships deepen, his wisdom develops, and the plot thickens.
Towles’ writing is above all elegant in its delivery. He writes with affable sophistication - a true gift that is such a pleasure to dive into the depths of each page. His heartfelt accounts of the alliances, community, and love that develops over the course of the story are genteelly conveyed. In the end, I loved it.
Vickie’s rating: 4.5 stars