House arrest has never been so charming as in Towles’s second novel (following Rules of Civility), an engaging 30-year saga set almost entirely inside the Metropol, Moscow’s most luxurious hotel. To Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the Metropol becomes both home and jail in 1922, when the Bolsheviks spare his life (on the strength of a revolutionary poem written in 1913, when the count was at university). Forbidden to venture out, Rostov explores the intricacies of the grand structure and befriends its other denizens: precocious nine-year-old Nina Kulikova, a bureaucrat’s daughter who demands instruction on how to be a princess; Emile, virtuosic chef of the Boyarsky, “the finest restaurant in Moscow”; Andrey, the Boyarsky’s French expatriate maître d’; and the beautiful actress Anna Urbanova, who becomes the count’s regular visitor and paramour. Standing in for the increasingly despotic Soviet government is the Bishop, a villainous waiter who experiences gradual professional ascent—he becomes headwaiter of the Boyarsky, finally putting his seating-chart and wine-pairing talents to use. But when the adult Nina returns to ask Rostov for a favor, his unique, precariously well-appointed life must change once more. Episodic, empathetic, and entertaining, Count Rostov’s long transformation occurs against a lightly sketched background of upheaval, repression, and war. Gently but dauntlessly, like his protagonist, Towles is determined to chart the course of the individual. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/11/2016 Release date: 09/06/2016 Genre: Fiction
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