What an absolute joy this book is! It had been languishing on the TBR pile since a friend left it for me months ago. I'm not usually a fan of books about Russia -- all those difficult
names and generally unrelenting grimness -- but I finally gave it a go.
And how glad I am. The names are manageable, the characters memorable, and most of them quite engaging. And, despite being set during very grim times indeed -- 1922-1954 -- the novel is amazingly light-hearted. All of Moscow, it's said, passes through the Metropol, and the reader is kept aware of the momentous events beyond the walls, as the protagonist interacts with a varied cast of characters.
It's an amusing (perhaps far-fetched) premise. An aristocrat -- a Former Person in the jargon of the times -- is put under perpetual house arrest in the still grand Metropol hotel is Moscow. Fallen from the former glory of a lavish suite, the gentleman learns to make do with a tiny attic room and contrives to lead a gentlemanly existence within his roomy prison.
Under the tutelage of a fellow inmate of the hotel, a young girl as at home there as Bemelmans' Madeleine is at the Ritz, he comes to know the below stairs as well as the public areas and learns to value the staff as fellow humans. And when a crisis eventually arises, he uses all that he had learned to bring the book to a most satisfactory conclusion.
The writing is exquisite; the pace is measured, as it should be to allow the reader to savor each delicately limned moment. I am contemplating getting it on audio to enjoy all over again.
Highly, highly recommended.