Book Review

August '16

A Gentleman in Moscow (Hardcover)
Amor Towles

This new book by the author of Rules of Civility will be available September6,2016 in Hardcover.

The setting is 1922 Moscow, and the main character, Count Alexander Rostov, is an "unrepentant aristocrat" sentenced by a Bolshevik Tribunal to a lifetime of house arrest in the Hotel Metropol.  Returning from the trial to the hotel where he has lived for the last four years, the Count finds that his valuable antiques and artwork have been declared "property of the people" and have vanished from his sight.

The Count is ousted from his luxury suite at the hotel and moved with meager belongings to a 100 square foot apartment on the low-ceilinged top floor, where he can barely stand up.  Determined to make the most of his circumstances, he sticks to his old routines of dining, barbering, and socializing, all within the confines of the hotel.  A breath of fresh air arrives in the form of 10-year-old Nina, also a "prisoner of the hotel" while her widowed father serves as a diplomat.  Nina wears a master key to the hotel on her necklace, and together she and the Count explore the behind-the-scenes workings of the Metropol.  A life-long friendship is forged, which will test the Count again and again.  Although he clearly remembers being told "Make no mistake - should you ever step foot outside the Metropol again, you will be shot," when an adult Nina asks a favor of him, it's hard to say no. 

This book has been described as "a masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history." I would add that it is a good long saga, spanning four decades.  The author has done a marvelous job of drawing the characters not only of the Count and Nina, but also of the supporting cast that works in the hotel.  Several subplots are woven in, each serving to forward the story and keep you wanting more.  If I were going on a trip, and could take only one book, this would be it.  Good writing, engaging characters, and some history all in one volume.