There is something profoundly reassuring in reading about a protagonist who can stay calm and collected even in the most tumultuous times, when others are (sometimes quite literally) losing their heads. The dignity and humanity of this novel's protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, stand out at Moscow's Metropole Hotel in the early 20th century, as he weathers a house arrest that extends through the end of the Russian Revolution, Stalinist purges and the beginning of the Cold War. Although Rostov cannot leave the hotel on pain of death and he is seemingly exiled from the world, he keeps in touch with the changing times through the fascinating guests who dine and sleep in the luxurious Metropole suites. His gentlemanly aloofness is challenged, however, when he unexpectedly becomes the ward of an orphan girl and must guard her future from the interference of the KGB - at which point, this deft character study takes on elements of a fast-paced spy thriller. Chock full of allusions to the golden age of Russian literature, this novel manages to combine wit and heart, showing that good manners and good friends can overcome the banality of evil.
Meghan Casey (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)