This review is completely spoiler-free (it’s also pretty short).
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Before I say anything else, I think I should admit that this is possibly the best book anyone could read in a lockdown.
The book starts off with a court hearing in which Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to a life of house arrest, and just within those 3 pages I was a bit afraid of being bored by the book. Even before starting the book, when a friend of mine recommended it to me, I was hesitant. I’m not big on books that have strong political settings, and I thought I would not be able to complete the book because of it simply not piquing my interest. Never have I made such a terrible mistake in judgement.
From the moment Count Rostov is by himself, we become a part of him. We can see him trying to make the best of a situation that makes his world so much smaller than what he’s used to it being. No more leisurely strolls, no more restaurants, opera houses, or theatres. The only consolation is knowing he’ll be in the grandest hotel in Russia for the entire duration of his arrest, even he is shifted from his suite to a little attic room.
Count Alexander Rostov is one of the most charming characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and this charm spreads to his eyes and his mind. We see the hotel through the charm his eyes contain, seeing the beauty and magic within the walls of The Metropol. And we read his thoughts through the charm he never fails to maintain in his wonderful mind.
But in case you’re thinking this is just a book about a man and his thoughts, you’re not completely correct. The story is brightened with the addition of a number of characters, both endearing and detestable, and I won’t name any of them since I think every bit of this book should come as a surprise, and I’ve already said far too much.
This book is easy to read, unlike what I thought it would be, and to me, it came across as a million shades of grey held between the extremes of black and white, with the darkest representing the sobriety of reflection and alone-ness (not loneliness), the middles representing the subconscious performance of routine, and the brightest representing the people, the stories, and the intelligent glint in the Count’s eyes.
I started this book unsure of whether I would finish it, and I finished it, sure that it would be one of my favourites- not only of the year, but also in life. I think it is a book that everyone should read, and what better time than now, when we’ve all been confined indoors, even if our world is beginning to open up a bit.
Arshia’s rating: 5/5