Meet Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt, and author of the long poem,Where is it Now,? written in the aftermath of the failed revolution of 1905.
It is precisely for that poem, ambigously interpreted in 1918 by the the new rulers of Russia, that the Count is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's elegant Hotel Metropol–should he ever set foot outside its walls he will be shot on sight.
It is here that I suggest you go to your freezer and open a bottle of top shelf Russian vodka, arrange a platter of blini and caviar, and perhaps, irrespective of gender, clip and light a Cuban cigar. And as the day eases into night pour a calvados, armagnac or cognac of your choice for A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW is a book that you won't be able to put down.
The history of modern Russia up to and including Nikita Khruschev enters and permeates the hotel via the personalities that Rostov encounters: actresses, opera singers, politicians, American soldiers and newspapermen, and always a whiff of Hollywood, especially Bogart, whom Rostov frequently channels. And most tenderly, Nina, a nine-year old that opens his heart and fills it with joy.
Towles is a master at creating lushly detailed vignettes such as this commentary on How to eat Bouillabaise.
One first tastes the broth-that simmered distillation of fish bones, fennel, and tomatoes, with their hearty suggestions of Provence. One then savors the tender flakes of haddock and the briny resilience of the mussels, which have been purchased on the docks from the fisherman. One marvels at the boldness of the oranges arriving from Spain and the absinthe poured in the taverns. And all of these various impressions are somehow collected, composed, and brightened by the saffron–that essence of summer sun which, having been harvested in the hills of Greece and packed by mule to Athens, has been sailed across the Mediterranean in a felucca. In other words, with the very first spoonful one finds oneself transported to the port of Marseille–where the streets teem with sailors, thieves, and madonnas, with sunlight and summer, with languages and life.
My only problem is how to cast the movie. I don't want some Wes Anderson spoof. It would have been easy in the thirties, Lubitsch would have directed à la Ninotchka and Wiliam Powell would have starred. In the 90s I would have engaged Anthony Minghella who would have cast Ralph Fiennes but today I don't know.