“A Gentleman in Moscow” is a novel that is packed with warmth, charm and basic human decency. It tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is confined to the Metropol Hotel in Moscow by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s for the “crime” of being part of the upper class.
Now, there are certainly worse places to be placed under house arrest than a luxury hotel, but nonetheless, it took away the count’s freedom. More importantly, the Bolshevik revolution took away his identity. He was referred to as a Former Person and stripped of his titles, his ancestral home and most of his possessions. His life could have become very narrow and bitter, but, instead, he found a way to still live a satisfying, meaningful life. This is because he didn’t let the Bolsheviks strip him of his character or dignity.
The book starts off a little slow as the author develops some of the historical backdrop for the story. So don’t give up if it doesn’t grab you right away! Also at the beginning, the Count comes across as rather frivolous because, well, he IS rather frivolous. This is a man of leisure who is used to whiling away the hours at the ballet or over drinks with friends. But as the book progresses, we also find out that he is a man of substance who’s capable of great kindness and love.
The Count’s world now revolves around the people who either work at or visit the hotel. He forms deep friendships with some of the staff, most of whom still treat him with respect despite his altered status and circumstances. But there is one villain among them just to keep things real. There is also a steady stream of interesting hotel guests that the Count forms relationships with, including a long-term romantic partner and a little girl he ends up raising like a daughter. It’s the positive nature of these relationships that give the story so much heart, as well as the Count, himself, who is “at once proper, proud and openhearted. ”
This novel is also full of social commentary. Particularly striking is the way the communist movement in Russia ate its young. People who were initially and enthusiastically idealistic about the revolution found themselves eventually persecuted by the system they had so energetically helped put in place. And, of course, a system that was supposed to be about “the people” devolved to once again be about the individuals in charge. You know, “four legs good, two legs better” kind of stuff.
The author is also adept at depicting different aspects of human nature and I frequently found myself thinking “I know someone just like that!” And it was ultimately his depiction of the Count that made me like this book so much. He was a thoroughly likable combination of charm, gentlemanly manners and compassion. I found myself wanting to have cocktails with him!
Have you read “A Gentleman in Moscow”? Tell me what you thought.