At last, a literary novel that lives up to the name, with excellent writing, an engaging narrative, wonderful characters, and almost no trace of self-importance. I just loved this book. I loved the easy sophistication, the dry humor, and the glimpses of Russian history and literature, from the czars to Khrushchev, from Chekhov to Tolstoy. Most of all I loved the characters, a cast of complex, meticulously crafted, interesting people, with Rostov, the gentleman of the title, at the heart of the story.
I'd be the first to admit that the novel isn't perfect, and that it won't be for everyone. This is an idealized, cosmopolitan setting, not the gritty stuff of real Russian history. There is no grand sweep of plot, little action or adventure. This is essentially a diary, concerned with the inconsequential goings-on of a daily existence that's circumscribed by the Metropol Hotel. Events are often too scripted, coincidental, or implausible.
But the tale never strays far from decent people, broader, deeper meanings, and simple truths. As I read the last page, I was thinking about reading the book again. That very rarely happens. For me, it was that kind of book.