My 12 in 12 Challenge – February – Reading around the World – Book 10

My tenth book of the month is set in Russia and it is a delight. I heard about it from a review which was linked via Twitter and liked the sound of the book. I put the title on a list of books I might buy one day when I reduce my to-be-read pile but spotted it going cheaply in a charity shop and bought it (which is why my to-be-read pile never seems to get any smaller despite my best efforts). I am so glad that I read it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles starts in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov has all his estates and possessions taken from him and is told that he must live in the Metropole Hotel in Moscow and that he will be shot if he steps outside the doors. As Russia changes around him the Count must adapt to his greatly reduced circumstances, living in an attic room without the wealth and power that he was born to and at the whim of politicians and ideologies.

The book stretches into the Cold War and despite the restricted location it is full of life. This is a book about living your best life in whatever circumstances you find yourself but it is not a sentimental story and never veers into mawkishness. The author is clear about the risks that anyone thinking for themself in this period runs and also about how circumstances can change so quickly. The Count keeps our attention throughout as he accommodates himself to what is happening whilst still living with integrity and upholding what he believes are universal values.

I was hooked on this book from the very beginning. I loved the elegant way in which it is written and the wry humour. I liked the references to literature and films, and the clever way that the plot is developed. This book is written as much about what Russia goes through during this period as much as what the Count and his collection of odd friends experience. It also has one of the most satisfying endings I have read for a long time. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two along the way.

I highly recommend this book – although it is only February I expect it to feature on my list of best reads at the end of the year.

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