by Amor Towles
It is 1922 and the handsome Count Alexander Rostov has been summoned before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs and accused of writing a counter-revolutionary poem. Only high-ranking friends keep him from being thrown against a wall and shot. Instead, he’s declared a “Former Person” and sentenced to life imprisonment in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, the grand Art Nouveau palace. He is escorted across the Kremlin, through the elegant revolving doors of the hotel, past his usual suite and up to the attic, sentenced to indefinite house arrest. Rostov passes the decades making a whole world out of a hotel and the people in it — a precocious 9-year-old, a moody chef and the French maître d’. He lives a full and rich life according to the principle that, “If one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them.” The book culminates in a thrilling finale as the Count and his friends hatch a daring escape plan. Quite apart from the ingeniously ludicrous plot, and the acutely drawn characters, what adds to the joy of this book is the precision of the author’s style. He conveys exactly the right impression with a deliciously surprising choice of words.