Wow, what an impressive novel. Topnotch. I've occasionally read the odd Russian novel (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov); they have a certain cadence in translation, and while reading this I was thinking: this guy must be Russian. Because he had that same style.
But no. The back jacket flap says Amor Towles was "born and raised in the Boston area." May have eaten a lot of borscht as a kid, perhaps.
It's the story of Count Alexander Rostov, Russian aristocrat, who has returned to Russia after a period of self-imposed exile during the Russian Revolution. The opening is a transcript of his 1922 trial before the "Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs". AKA, the thugs in charge of shooting ex-aristocrats. But thanks to a pre-Revolution poem attributed to him, mercy is shown: he's simply sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, an island of relative opulence in otherwise dreary Bolshevik Moscow.
It's not a perfect situation. He is booted from his luxurious suite on the third floor up to a tiny area in the hotel attic. But (see the title) Rostov is every inch the gentleman, and he adapts. He finds his niche, making many friends, and a few adversaries. There's a lot of humor, some pathos, many surprises and twists, and (as it turns out) a very suspenseful, action-filled finish.
Here's something I didn't notice while reading, from Towles' website: "From the day of the Count’s house arrest, the chapters advance by a doubling principal: one day after arrest, two days after, five days, ten days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, one year, two years, four years, eight years, and sixteen years after arrest. At this midpoint, a halving principal is initiated with the narrative leaping to eight years until the Count’s escape, four years until, two years, one year, six months, three months, six weeks, three weeks, ten days, five days, two days, one day and finally, the turn of the revolving door."
That's so nerdy! I'm even more impressed.
I see they're planning on making a miniseries of this, with Kenneth Branagh starring. It's aimed at Apple TV, probably, and this may cause me to subscribe.