A Gentleman in Moscow

You may have noticed that it has been about three weeks since I posted a book review. The main reason for that is that this book is not a trifle. Yes, at 462 pages. it is longer than most books, but this one must be savored like a K+M Extravirgin Chocolate. (I haven’t had one but I can dream.)

Towles is an artist. His words are pasted to the page with the most delicate brush strokes. He is never heavy-handed. No words are wasted; every sentence sets up the next.

You may wonder in the early chapters where the story is headed. Put away that idea. It is the journey that matters.

As you may have noticed, I read mystery genre mostly, but a beautifully written book in any genre is a pleasure to read. On the other hand, a poorly written mystery often is not worth my time.

When I looked at the cover and title of the book, I assumed it might be a spy novel or something of the sort. At the root, this is a love story. No, not romance, not a love triangle. Nothing so squalid. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov in 1922 was found guilty of being an unrepentant member of the leisure class. But rather than shoot him, he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the Hotel Metropol, the greatest hotel in all of Russia. Should he set foot outside he would be shot. The book covers the next thirty odd years.

In all that time he lived in a 100 square foot room in what had been servant’s quarters. None-the-less he was able to befriend almost everyone he met, from a young girl to a senior Soviet government official. Each person became important to him so that he took great risks to help them. They, in turn, helped him when needed.

Let me give you a taste of the writing:

As the Count waited for his wine, he gazed around the restaurant, but his fellow diners offered no relief…. That is, except for the young girl with the penchant for yellow who appeared to be spying on him from her table behind the fountain.

According to Vasily, this nine-year-old with straight blond hair was the daughter of a widowed Ukrainian bureaucrat. As usual, she was sitting with her governess. When she realized the Count was looking her way, she disappeared behind her menu. … 

But when the Count opened his eyes, he nearly dropped his spoon. For standing at the edge of his table was the young girl with the penchant for yellow–studying him with that unapologetic interest peculiar to children and dogs. Adding to the shock of her sudden appearance was the fact that her dress today was in the shade of a lemon.

“Where did they go?” she asked, without a word of introduction.

“I beg your pardon. Where did who go?”

She tilted her head to take a closer look at his face.

“Why, your moustaches.”

Thus began a great friendship that sprouted anew throughout the book to the very end. There were many others, including a famous actress of the silent films who managed to reinvent herself in the industry to survive, literally to the last page of the novel.

The Gentleman in Moscow goes on my list of favorite books. Oh, did I mention it was the New York Times bestseller for 2017?

Mike Lawrence

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