Some books are like a cat that curls up purring on your lap, looking up at you with all the affection and mystery a cat can muster and you are, of course, immediately beguiled and entranced with this unexpected and precious gift. Towles seems to know how to evoke that response better than anyone I know and does it with such skill that you don’t even realize it is happening until at the very end when you are left bereft just as if a cat, tired of your lap jumps down and walks away.
The gentleman of the title is Count Alexander Rostov. It is 1922 in Russia, a rather inconvenient time for anyone who is titled and aristocratic and the count, being no exception is found to be guilty and unrepentant of his status by a Bolshevik tribunal and confined, at the age of 30, to live in a small attic room in the Metropol Hotel for the remainder of his life.
Count Rostov must now figure out, with all the aplomb and resiliency that he can muster, what it means to be a man of purpose in such circumstances. With humor and curiosity he begins to find a larger world of relationships, as he forges friendships with the headwaiter, Andrey, Chef Emile, Marina the seamstress, Anna the actress and even with Nina, the young girl staying with her governess at the hotel who asks endless questions. In all it is a good life, unexpected to be sure, but nonetheless one that is perfectly acceptable. But even the Metropol, that bastion of civilization in the midst unprecedented change, cannot keep the consequences of the proletarian struggle from intruding and so it is that fate places the life of a young lady in the counts hands and now he must not only carve out a future for himself, but also for this young woman who deserves a brighter future.
Towles, whose breakout novel Rules of Civility established him as a writer with extraordinary skill, excels at creating these perfectly renderred scenes, full of humor, life, and emotion. But his real skill is creating characters who are complicated and brim with life. This is a book to savor and read slowly, letting the magic slowly soak in and touch your soul.
Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out Of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren, Sharon, Ken and Keith
Books Study Worthy: Yes!
Read in hardback format.