I bought the book in the airport in Bucharest. The title of the book sounded just right.
And so it proved. The story line, the author’ style and soft humour, the intertwining of history and human destinies made it an exquisite evenings’ companion.
The main character of the novel is a Russian aristocrat – Count Alexander Rostov – condemned by a soviet tribunal to house arrest in Metropol hotel in early 1920s. As amazing as it sounds, he managed to live his life to the fullest without setting a foot outside the building for over thirty years. That was with one exception, when he took his injured daughter to a hospital. The walls of the hotel became his allies. He put to use his intelligence, manners, character, skills and knowledge to help with grace all of staff and hotel guests on every appropriate occasion. He became a languages and West history tutor to an apparatchik. He worked as a waiter and became a headwaiter in the hotel’ s restaurant.
In his early days in the hotel he met Nina, a 8-year-old girl, who spent her days in the hotel, as his father was newly appointed to a party position in Moscow. Years later, Nina entrusted her 6-year-old daughter Sofia to Rostov, when she followed her husband to a remote camp in Siberia. Sofia grew to consider Rostov as her father… . And in mid 50s he arranged her escape to the US embassy when she was with an orchestra in Paris.
I finished the book with a sense of regret. I could have kept reading it. It is one of those books in which you read a line and close the eyes to savour the words.
My favourite lines: “…life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve – if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew.”