This was an audiobook listen for me, narrated by the wonderful Nicholas Guy Smith. It was also something of a journey. It took me most of 2020 and a month of 2021 to finish this fine novel. It took me so long not because it was a chore to listen, but precisely because it was a great story. It takes time to make sense of those.
It was a great read for last year because of both plot and theme. The plot’s connection to 2020 is immediately obvious – a man is sentenced to permanent house arrest in his own home. Many of us were also forced into isolation and removed from the freedom of movement that we took for granted. That’s relatable, but not necessarily compelling or desirable in a story right now. However, what the protagonist does with his situation is what inspires and emboldens the reader.
Count Alexander Rostov is a Russian aristocrat and jovial fellow, found wanting by the Bolsheviks (hence the house arrest). He’s forced to live in the Metropol Hotel. However, Rostov is the titular gentleman. The label doesn’t come from his wealth or family but from his character. There’s a sort of magnetic pull to his good nature, his manners (the purpose of which the Post family explains are to show care for others’ well-being), and his polite but stubborn refusal to let circumstances dictate his behavior.
There were plenty of times in 2020 when I wondered whether it was worth it or not to continue my social distancing when so many weren’t, or to let my words and actions devolve to match that seen from many national leaders, or to just give up altogether. Count Rostov is a beacon to the idea that “by the smallest of actions one can restore some order in the world.”