Friday, January 12, 2018

Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Windmill, 2016)

While most aristocrats are seeking to leave Russia as it falls to the Bolsheviks, Count Alexander Rostov heads from Paris to his ancestral home, then to Moscow. There he is arrested and put on trial. He is spared the firing squad given his contributions to poetry and instead placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel near to the Kremlin and the finest in the city. There is he is forced to give up a number of his possessions and to occupy a small room in the attic. Rostov draws on his well of being a gentleman and his good nature and wit to make friends with all classes staying and working in the hotel. As the years pass by his life passes through a number of phases and several escapades, but there is little sign he is to gain his freedom, something he wishes for his adopted daughter.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an expansive and endearing story of the life of Count Alexander Rostov, placed under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel in Central Moscow in 1922. It is somewhat of an allegorical tale exploring the nature of being confined within borders and hope, friendship, dignity and making-do under political tyranny driven by political ideology; while Count Rostov is restricted to the hotel and compartmentalises his different roles and relationships, all Soviets are denied freedom of passage, suffer numerous hardships, and work out strategies to survive. There are also a number of political philosophical asides comparing the plight of the proletariat in collectivised, socialist Russia with individualised, capitalist United States. While Rostov moves through different phases, much as the unfolding of the revolution and its leaders, a selection of characters intersect with him, some on a more permanent basis, such as the hotel’s chef, concierge, barman, seamstress and manager, others more periodically, such as a film star, an old university friend, and a young girl who loses her innocence and faith in the system as she ages. The characterisation and character development is excellent, as are the social interactions between them. There is a real sense of place as to the Metropole Hotel and all the goings on within its walls. The prose is lovely and the storytelling compelling, full of wonderful little side stories, musings, and reflections on life. And the long arc of the plot, with its somewhat meandering path, is very nicely executed.

No comments: