Always elegant and courtly, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is doomed to life as a virtual prisoner, under house arrest in Russia’s grand Metropol hotel for a crime he may not have even committed shortly after the Bolshevic Revolution . Undaunted by the prospect of facing a firing squad, the Count, with his Old World air of persnickety composure, is steadfastly unflappable as evidenced in his interview by the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (whatever that is).
Vyshinsky: I must say, I do not think that I have ever seen a jacket festooned with so many buttons.
Rostov: Thank you.
Vyshinsky: It was not meant as a compliment.
Rostov: In that case, I demand satisfaction on the field of honor.
Vyshinsky: And your occupation?
Rostov: It is not the business of gentlemen to have occupations.
Vyshinsky: Very well then. How do you spend your time?
Rostov: Dining, discussion, reading, reflecting. The usual rigmarole.
Vyshinsky: And you write poetry?
Rostov: I have been known to fence with a quill.
Vyshinsky: [Holding up a pamphlet] Are you the author of this long poem of 1913: Where Is It Now?
Rostov: It has been attributed to me.
Vyshinsky: Why did you write the poem?
Rostov: It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be sitting at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands.
But the Count, always the indomitable gentleman, quietly and steadfastly turns this life sentence to his own favor and makes a rather comfortable life for himself there, despite the loss of his former courtly lifestyle. From his cramped quarters in the attics of the grand Metropol, the Count continues his courtly lifestyle as best he can; entertaining friends, writing letters, reading, even having an intermittent romantic tryst. Through the Count and the cast of characters, the reader is treated to an (albiet sanitized) sampling of early 20th Century Russian politics, history, and foreboding through the windows of the Metropol.
With time on his hands, the Count spends an inordinate amount of it waxing poetic over the best wine pairings, the best ingredients for the meals to be served in the hotel’s restaurant, The Boyarsky, and the greatest Russian authors (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky). He rails (ever so genteel and gentlemanly) over the new “Commissioner of Food’s” decree to remove all labels from all 100,000 bottles of wine in the hotels wine cellars in an effort to make all equal. What he would think of me with my boxed wine!
The Count maintains his courtly composure in the face of his confinement, his unexpected “fatherhood,” and his secret affair. That is, until the ending; the Count is reduced to lying, stealing, and ultimately attempting murder, sort of, but he still manages commit all these crimes with panache, channeling the spirit of his idol, Humphrey Bogart.