Boy, is it hard to come up with adjectives to describe this book. I keep coming up with things like "sweet" and "sentimental", but those aren't entirely accurate, and it sounds like the book is a bit treacly, which is most definitely is not.
A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of the refined, most proper Count Alexander Rostov, who, as the book opens in the early 1920s, is being forced into house arrest at the lovely Hotel Metropol in Moscow for having written a poem the authorities are not happy about. They think house arrest will be a misery for the Count, especially after they remove him from his elegant suite and dump him into a tiny attic room.
But Count Rostov is a man of wiles and resources. He is determined to make the best of his situation. He develops rituals and routines and, bit by bit, comes to know many of the hotel's staff and frequent visitors. He is visited by people from his past and makes new friends that have ongoing effects in his life going forward. As a character, he's ingratiating, charming, even at times when he seems a bit pedantic.
It would be fair to say that long stretches go without a lot happening, but because he's such a congenial character, I didn't care. I'd get lulled into this sweet hotel life, and then a drop of reality from the world outside would hit. This book takes the Count through to the 1950s, and if you look at that period in Russian history (well, world history), you know a lot happened. The Count may live in a rarefied environment, but that doesn't mean that he's unaware of what's happening outside. Along the way, we get insights into the Moscow of these decades through the employees, the government officials who frequent the hotel's bar and restaurant, and others. And sometimes things happen that are not as sweet.
I'm not describing this well, I suspect, partly because I want to avoid spoilers. But I loved it. I was happy to be in his world (except for when I was occasionally afraid or sad) and in the company of Count Rostov.