A Gentleman in Moscow
An absolutely lovely novel, which is – at its core – about the relationships we make, and specifically friendships that develop over extended periods of time.
Alexander Rostov is an aristocrat who is convicted of subversion in the years following the Russian Revolution. Since he resides in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow (a real place that still exists), he is sentenced to house arrest there. The book follows his life for next three decades, within the walls of the Metropol.
The Count Rostov spends his days among the staff at the Metropol, eventually becoming a waiter. He is a consummate gentleman who appreciates the finer things and customs and niceties that develop in polite society.
The Count and the staff of the hotel eventually become a pseudo-family, and the novel unfolds leisurely as it winds itself day by day, year by year, decade by decade. Towles does a wonderful job at establishing the setting, as the Metropol itself becomes another character itself.
There’s a depth of character that arises over the years, first when interacting with a young girl who also lives in the hotel, and later when asked to become the guardian of another. He interacts with members of the Soviet administration in ways both antagonistic and humanistic, in spite of the natural adversity of mid-century communism. At times, The Count and his associates can set aside the political climate in which they live, and at others, they are controlled by it.
In the end, the story is about aging in place, and the relationships we create that last for years. Friendships begin, expand, are revisited, and sometimes end in heartbreak. The story eventually accelerates toward a climax which both exciting and with a lovely closure in – quite literally – the final sentence of the book.
I find myself quite reflective in the hour since I finished it, thinking about friendships I’ve made, and those which drift in and out of my life, over the decades, never quite ending, but picking up right where they left off, no matter how many years have passed in-between.