Condemned for being an aristocrat in Stalinist Russia,
33-year-old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend the
rest of his life in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. If he leaves, he’ll
be shot. His 100-square-foot room is a former servant’s quarter tucked
away in the sixth-floor attic. After an understandable period of
boredom, Rostov begins to make a full life of his restricted existence.
He explores the hotel’s mechanical underbelly with nine-year-old friend
Nina, befriends the staff, becomes head waiter at the elegant Boyarsky
Restaurant, has a long love affair with an actress, and eventually
adopts Nina’s daughter Sophia after the adult Nina disappears. His
friend Misha even comments on his luck: Rostov savors the pleasures of
friendship, food, drinks, romance, and parenthood while outside the
hotel Russians suffer.
In focusing on inside the hotel, on the personal rather than the political, author Amor Towles has taken a different tack from most books about the former USSR. Towles isn’t oblivious to the horrors of the Soviet Union; they are evident in the experiences of Misha, Nina, and her husband. But Towles appears more interested in the ability of people to bond despite differences of class, politics, and situation. Rostov finds commonality with everyone, from a seamstress to a higher-up in the party. True, he could have it worse than living in Moscow’s most elegant hotel, but he’s not a free man. Rostov’s resilience, resourcefulness, and maintenance of his charm, humor, and grace render him heroic.
Rostov isn’t the only character readers are likely to fall in love with. A Gentleman in Moscow was deservedly a bestseller. Let’s hope for a sequel.
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