Beautifully written and almost lyrical in composition, we are transported to another time and place.
In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat is arrested and sentenced to house arrest at his residence in the Hotel Metropole in Moscow. Trapped within the confines of a small attic room, Rostov learns to master his circumstances and we, as the reader are taken on a journey with him for the next thirty years.
We are pulled into the daily rituals of the Count’s life: squats and stretches upon waking, a breakfast of biscuits and fruit, downstairs to read the papers, lunch in the hotel’s Piazza and his weekly appointment at the hotel’s barber. We are slowly and delightfully swept along with all that happens. We grow to love not just the Count and the Metropole itself but the characters within: the infamous grumpy Chef Emile at the Boyarsky restaurant; the dependable seamstress, Marina; the beautiful Anna; the tortured poet, Mischa and the refreshing nine-year-old child, Nina who shows Rostov the surprises of life in the bustling hotel frequented by the Party’s hierarchy, foreign correspondents and famous actresses.
Exquisitely prepared food and good wine is a central theme as is philosophical points around what it is to be Russian and we are treated to an array of views on politics, art, music, mathematics and literature. After all, a gentleman must be well educated to be a good conversationalist. We are privy to it all as we meander through the years of hardship, war, collectives and famine. Then in the last quarter of the book the tension builds to a captivating twist filled with espionage, a cat and mouse chase and a nod to Humphrey Bogart which will leave you laughing.
It is a long book (753 pages) and while it may seem daunting, you barely notice. There is so much to love about this book and it will stay with you long after the last page is turned. In fact, a second reading would no doubt reveal even more. What an engaging and enlightening read it is.