Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and The Man with the Horn.

What We Thought: In 1922 Count Alexander Rostov is classed as a Former Person in Soviet Russia but is spared Siberia (or worse) and sentenced instead to house arrest at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. Denied his usual extensive suite, he is moved to a 10ft-square room in the attic. With his books and the few pieces of his own furniture he can squeeze in, Rostov settles in to a life of routine and constraint.

Through his friendship with the nine-year-old Nina, daughter of an often absent official, he discovers that there is more to the hotel than he ever imagined. As the unlikely pair explore the Metropol from attic to basement, Rostov realises that his life has expanded rather than contracted under house arrest. Always ebulliant, urbane and charming, he befriends waiters, desk clerks, barbers and seamstresses.

Later, he takes a position as Head Waiter in his favourite in-house restaurant. There he develops friendships with Emile, the head chef, and Andrey, the maitre d’. When a stricter manager, who toes the party line, takes over the hotel the Triumverate, as they are known, cook secret meals and generally rise above the shortages of good food and wine without labels. As an old student pal tells him, being placed under house arrest has made him the luckiest man in Russia.

Meanwhile, Nina has grown up. When her husband is sent to a corrective institution she moves away from Moscow to be nearer to him, leaving her little daughter with Rostov temporarily. Nina never comes back and the Count becomes a father to six-year-old Sofia. So begin the further adventures of Alexander Rostov.

A Gentleman in Moscow is at first delightful and whimsical. As the book (and it’s fairly long) progresses through the 1930s, 40s and 50s we learn what Alexander’s privileged life was like before the Revolution and we see how he copes with his reduced circumstances. He shows us, through his strong friendships and open-heartedness, what true communism can be and what it means to be a gentleman in all senses of the word.

Beautifully written, amusing and entertaining, this is also a thought-provoking book. It truly is one to curl up with on a winter’s night.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Night Circus.

Avoid if you dislike: Good manners and whimsy.

Ideal accompaniments: The obvious would be a shot of vodka and some caviar but the Count would probably prefer a glass of Margaux.

Genre: Literary / Historical Fiction

Available from Amazon

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