There is something to be said for judging a book by its cover. Sometimes.
In this case, my husband was drawn to the Gatsby-esque gold and black design of this book first, only to be delighted upon reading the title and blurb that this book is set in Russia (he’s recently found a passion for Russian culture and language).
The beautifully written A Gentleman in Moscow follows the life of an aristocrat sentenced to house arrest in the 1920s following Russia’s significant social upheaval. Alexander Rostov is a witty, charming character who is a delight to read about. His respect for tradition, manners and etiquette are honourable and he keeps his refined ways despite remaining in house arrest at the Hotel Metropol from the 1920s until the 1950s.
The characters in this book really bring the story to life: from Alexander himself, to an intelligent young girl named Nina, to a willowy famous actress named Anna, to Rostov’s writer friend Mikhail, to the hotel’s staff – there is never any lack of substance to this novel.
The entertaining goings on of the hotel are contrasted with the more serious nature of Russia’s own shift of power, and Alexander Rostov is caught unwillingly trapped in the confines of the Hotel Metropol, unable to see his city change under the weight of the Revolution and moving into the Cold War era.
While we witness a man pained by the loss of his freedom in the city he has known and loved his entire life, we also see him grasp a fuller understanding of what it is to be rich. For a man who once attended balls with princesses and lived in a mansion, he finds his pleasure in meticulously maintaining standards of professionalism by serving at the hotel’s restaurant, as well as conversing with an array of interesting people. He also learns what it is to be a father.
I’ll just pick a random page to demonstrate Towles’ excellent writing style:
As the Count approached the Shalypin at 12:15, what emanated from this onetime chapel of prayer and reflection was a sound that would have been unthinkable ten years before. It was a sound characterised by fits of laughter, a melange of languages, the bleat of a trumpet, and the clinking of glasses – in other words, the sound of gay abandon.
A dash of nostalgia is thrown into Towles’ prim and proper writing, making for a very pleasurable read.