In his remarkable first novel, the best-selling Rules of Civility (2011), Towles etched 1930s New York in crystalline relief. Though set a world away in Moscow over the course of three decades, his latest polished literary foray into a bygone era is just as impressive. Sentenced as an incorrigible aristocrat in 1922 by the Bolsheviks to a life of house arrest in a grand Moscow hotel, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is spared the firing squad on the basis of a revolutionary poem he penned as an idealistic youth. Condemned, instead, to live his life confined to the indoor parameters of Metropol Hotel, he eschews bitterness in favor of “committing himself to practicalities.” As he carves out a new existence for himself in his shabby attic room and within the magnificent walls of the hotel-at-large, his conduct, his resolve, and his commitment to his home and to the hotel guests and staff together form a triumph of the human spirit. As Moscow undergoes vast political changes and countless social upheavals, Rostov remains, implacably and unceasingly, a gentleman. Towles presents an imaginative and unforgettable historical portrait. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
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.) Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC
Having chronicled upper-crust 1938 New York in his elegant debut, Rules of Civility, Towles grandly unfolds the life of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov in Soviet-era Moscow. The count is condemned by his past to permanent house arrest at the sumptuous Metropole Hotel, where he inhabits a tiny attic he's turned into a reflection of his rich interior life. Having expected to idle away his hours at his country estate, the count is initially at loose ends, his very values challenged. But he befriends little Nina, who teaches him the secrets of the Metropole and leaves him with a wonderful gift, and after a moment of despair launches on a whole new course. The count becomes head waiter at the Boyarsky, the hotel's fabled restaurant, forming a Triumvirate with Chef Emile and maître d' Andrey as he purveys taste, discretion, and culture in a bloodily upturned world. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union's many tragedies touch him (and readers) at a distance, communicating a sense of life ever haunted and ever resilient. VERDICT As urbane, cultured, and honey-smooth as the count himself, even as his situation inevitably creates suspense, this enthralling work is highly recommended even for those unfamiliar with Soviet history. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/16.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal. [Page 89]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind. A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011). Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.