Published: September 6, 2016
Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2016)
This was a gorgeously written book reminiscent All the Light We Cannot See in the beauty of its writing and the descriptiveness of its prose. Count Alexander Rostov has come before a tribunal in the year 1922 because of a controversial piece of poetry written back in 1905. If found guilty of inciting action against the current Bolshevik regime through the writing and distribution of this poem, which he is, he could be killed or sent to Siberia. However, instead, he is placed under house arrest. As he had been living in the Hotel Metropol, this is where he will remain. Upon receiving his sentence he is moved up to a small room in the attic and out of his luxurious suite. He must choose among his belongings which to take with him.
After the tribunal, the Count seems to shrink himself away and even contemplates suicide briefly, However, very soon he returns to life again and the reader begins to know the real Count. The Count is first and foremost a gentleman. He is a man of intellect, with exquisite manners and refined tastes, a loyal friend, and a man who believes in doing things the right way. He is charming and charismatic. He is a man to love throughout this novel. When he takes on a task, he does it to his utmost ability. Once he has come to terms with life within the confines of the hotel, it becomes a mini city for him. Young Nina, the Eloise of the hotel, becomes his tour guide creating a playground of the landscape. Willowy Anna Urbanova becomes his lover. He begins to work in the Boyarski, one of the hotel’s restaurants. He develops close relationships with Emil the chef, Andrey the matre’ d, and Vasily the concierge and they begin to have nightly meetings together.
It is within the confines of the hotel, that the Count must view Russia, the war and it’s changing political landscape. His friend Mishka from school visits off and on, and seems to suffer from the changing times. Nina, the ultimate pragmatist, grows up and marries. Years later, she returns asking the Count to care for her daughter, Sofia, while she seeks out her husband who has been taken away. These are just a couple of the Count’s visitors through whose eyes the Count must view the outside world. The Count while under house arrest for these 30 years, actually seems to be the one who has been privileged. He has escaped World War II. He has escaped the replacement of a Tsarist aristocracy with Bolchevism. Within the Hotel, the Count gains privilege as the head waiter of the Boyarsky. He sets table arrangements for members of the Communist party and gains access to their conversations. At the same time he is secretly councils one of the high ranking Soviet apparatchik in American and European language and culture.
There are many developments and twists as the story evolves, so I will say no more. It is an excellent book with well developed characters and interesting historical backdrop. I listened to this, however, I would have much preferred to have read it. Given the lengthy descriptions, I found myself tuning out at times and thinking of other things. This is a novel that demands a lot of attention.
- Why do you think the Count was ordered to house arrest rather than a more severe punishment?
- What does Nina teach the Count?
- How do you think the Count was able to get away with meeting all the various people that he did?
- Who wrote the poem for which the Count is arrested? Why do you think the Count protects his friend? Why does he feel that by protecting his friend, he was actually the more protected?
- Describe life for Mishka during the Count’s 30 years in the hotel. Compare and contrast this with the Count’s life.
- Why are the wine labels removed?
- Why do you think the Count is allowed as much autonomy as he does under house arrest? Do you think this is realistic?
- What qualities make the Count a gentleman? How do society’s negative connotations of aristocracy compare to the positive qualities of a gentleman?
- Why do you think Casablanca the Count’s favorite movie? What does it suggest about the Count’s perception of his situation?
- Discuss the Count’s role as a father.
- At one point, the Count is accused of keeping all of his eggs in separate baskets. Explain this.
- Discuss the scene on the rooftop with the beekeeper.
- Why is the reader asked to remember Prince Petrov? How is his role important towards the end of the book?
- Discuss the ending of the book. Where do you think Sofia and the Count will end up living?