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“A Gentleman In Moscow” is a novel by Amor Towles giving the reader a look into old-World elegance. The book opens a few years after the Russian Revolution. Thirty-three-year-old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has led the life of an aristocrat up until the Russian Revolution.
His privileged life of the aristocracy takes a drastic turn, when in 1922, he is put under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel by the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for writing a counter-revolutionary poem. His wealth and upbringing make the count a target for the Bolshevik uprising. The count will remain in this hotel for more than three decades.
Count Rostov is declared a “Former Person” and given life imprisonment. At first he takes all the changes in stride. Though he had been living in this hotel the past four years, when he is escorted back there he discovers his quarters are now a tiny attic room on the sixth floor, a room that once was used to sleep servants. Told that he can keep a few things from his old suite, he carefully chooses some mementos of his old life. He takes a writing desk, among other things. And he rounds up every single book.
Of course all the things he collects do not fit into his small room, and there is not much of a view from his window. Allowed to roam the hotel, he is well acquainted with all the staff. His customs and routines do not change despite his “house arrest.” Over the years he becomes good friends with the head chef, the head waiter, and a precocious 9-year-old Nina, daughter of a Communist bureaucrat. Nina also is in possession of a skeleton key that will open any room in the massive hotel.
He finds ways to make his confined life interesting, developing great friends at his new job as a restaurant server, where he spends lots of time observing the restaurant crowds. The many walk-in characters are the vehicles developed by the author to tell the Count of Russia’s condition and the changes he will face.
He lives across the street from the Bolshoi Theater and can see Red Square from one of the windows. He is an observer of the Communist rule, under which Stalin dictates what is written and said. In Count Rostov’s opinion, all the great literature has disappeared. He reads insights into the overall changes from 1922 to 1995, when the story takes a sharp turn.
The Count observes his surroundings by thinking of a large ship. One sails, perhaps eating at the captain’s table, playing baccarat with a French fellow and strolling under the stars with a new acquaintance and he thinks he has seen the ship. But he has missed “the lower level that teems with life and make the passage bearable.”
By the end of the novel, the reader finds that small things that happened to Count Rostov in the beginning pages have had a huge impact on the course of his life. As a result, Count Rostov has observed and helped form the new Russia.