A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles

“In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.”

What a wonderful book.  I absolutely loved this. Count Alexander, sentenced to life in a luxury hotel,  not the worst thing that could have happened to him, in reality, takes charge of his life, prospering even in his reduced circumstances, refusing to feel humiliated as he is escorted from his sumptuous suite of rooms furnished with his own family’s priceless antiques and items, to a 100 x 100 sf room with a postage stamp size window.   But, having taken to heart the advice of his grandfather, who said one must master one’s circumstances or one’s circumstances will master one, he begins by discovering at the back of his small closet a barely covered up door, which leads to the locked next room.  He takes off the door,  finds furnishings for the room as a study/living room, pushed his jackets back over the entrance and now has two rooms.

I am not sure of the financing arrangements, but he still takes his meals in the hotel’s two restaurants, has his hair cut at the hotel barber, and takes advantage of the other services of the hotel.  He makes further deeper friendships with the hotel’s concierge and desk man, the two bellmen, and the exclusive restaurant’s wonderful chef.

He meets a six year old girl, living in the hotel with her father, and who has nothing to do, and the two form a friendship of exploring all the far reaches of the huge establishment, down to its sub basements and back stairways.  She seems to have come in possession of a passkey, and they go everywhere.   As the years pass, and she and her dad move out of the hotel, she reappears from time to time.  The Count, having all the talents of the intelligent, educated, traveled, monied, upper aristocratic class, makes himself useful to the maitre d’ of the exclusive restaurant, and keeps himself busy with this and that.  He is visited from time to time by various friends.

After a number of years, he becomes the head waiter of the exclusive restaurant, an intimate with the maitre d’, the chef and the others.  One day, the little girl of his earlier friendship shows up with her own daughter of 6, and asks him to watch over the child for a week or two as she gets herself established in some remote place in Siberia where her dissident husband has been taken.  She says she will return to retrieve her daughter as soon as she can.  She never returns. Ever.

The Count sets up the little girl in his room in the attic, creating a bunk bed of sorts.  When after a number of weeks, turning into months it is now clear to everyone that there is this child living with him, the government comes to take her.  Because of his help to various government functionaries, he is able to prevent that, and the child grows up in the hotel, and after a while  he begins to refer to her as his daughter.

Funny, poignant, and at the end, something of a thriller, this book has it all.  Read it.  I beg of you. Read it for yourself.

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