Readers will know that not all books will be to their taste. Some books leave us cold. Some provoke us to fling them across the room in anger or disgust. Some we really, really mean to finish but never quite get around to doing so. Some we love and cherish. And some rare books work magic on us. “A Gentleman in Moscow” is, for me at least, one of the latter.
The story is a simple one. A Russian aristocrat is put under house arrest in a Moscow hotel, banished from his lavish suite to a tiny attic room. His life is bounded by the walls of the hotel and the people who work there or pass through it. For a man who has known the world, it is a harsh sentence, possibly worse than summary execution.
And yet, as the days and months, and years slip by, this idle aristocrat, who prided himself on being a perfect gentleman, on having perfect manners, on his grasp of nuance both in conversation, and in the realms of the senses, learns how narrow his world truly was, as this small space opens up a life he had never even imagined. Adept at form, he learns substance, becoming less an aristocrat and more of a human being.
There is something of the fairy tale to this story, something that narrowly skirts the edge of fantasy. It is a deeply humane story about a man who takes what could have been a protracted death sentence, and turns it into a celebration of life.