Magazine article World Literature Today

A Gentleman in Moscow

Magazine article World Literature Today

A Gentleman in Moscow

Article excerpt

Amor Towles. A Gentleman in Moscow. New York. Viking. 2016. 462 pages.

In June 1922 the charming Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is tried in Moscow and found guilty; this verdict opens Amor Towles's engaging new novel. Rather than being sentenced to death as an antirevolutionary, ostensibly for having written a poem deemed a call to arms, the count is made a nonperson by the Soviets and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Metropol Hotel. He will be summarily shot if he exits the premises.

Thus begins the reader's long and enchanting acquaintance with the count over four decades, during which Rostov does not leave the hotel. But the world definitely comes to him. Somewhat akin to the Grand Hotel, the great and near great, guests, and staffpopulate this novel, and Count Rostov is the moving force in many of their adventures. But he is neither an observer nor a deus ex machina set apart from the action; he is very much the emotional being at the center of the novel.

Early on, he encounters Nina, a nine-year-old Metropol version of the Plaza's Eloise. She is an odd child, wise beyond her years, who teaches the count about the hotel's secret nooks and also brings out his paternal qualities. But Nina is only the first of his intimates during his stay, which include, among others, his old friend Mishka, a writer; Anna Urbanova, a movie star who becomes Rostov's love interest; and, eventually, Nina's daughter, Sofia, who is leftin the count's care. Never content to remain idle, Rostov works as a waiter and rises to be the maÎtre d' of the famed Boyarsky Restaurant. …

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