A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a rare book. It’s really long, but it’s central character is so charming you don’t really want it to end.
It’s the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to house arrest in 1922 by the Soviet Tribunal for a propaganda infraction. But he is confined to one of the grandest hotels in Moscow, the Hotel Metropol, as opposed to being sent to Siberia.
I tried reading this book once before and failed to finish it, but this time I stuck with it, and again, in a rare way, the book gets more interesting towards the middle than it is at the beginning.
The Count continuously tells us that if we don’t “master our circumstances” we will then be mastered by them. So, from the very first, he tries to reconcile himself to living in one huge building for the rest of his life.
One of the first friends he makes in the hotel is Nina, a precocious nine-year-old who is living in the hotel with her father. She has a master key to the hotel (it’s never explained how she got it) and together, she and the Count explore the hotel from basement to roof. Eventually, she gifts the Count with this key, and leaves with her papa.
But she reappears at the hotel a few years later in her late teens, and the Count notes she has a few male friends with her as they travel off to work for the Russian government in an agricultural capacity.
Then, a few years later, she comes to the hotel again. Her husband has been sentenced to Siberia, and could the Count take her small daughter for a few weeks?
Sofia becomes the focus of the Count’s life from then on.He and his friend, the maitre d’ and the chef of the hotel, do all they can to ensure she has a happy life.
But eventually life intrudes and the tale (eventually)comes to an end. It’s an entrancing tale, though, full of details about food (the count is a connoisseur), clothing,(both male and female), books, poems, scissors shaped like egrets, clocks that clang only twice daily, and many other moments that might be preserved from a life of dignity.
The writing is excellent, and, although the book is long (it took me four days to read it, which is rare), it speeds along. The only thing that bothered me is that it skips over World War II and how the count fared during the siege of Moscow.
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