A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 1, Archaeologies Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Count is once again in the hotel bar, performing a magic trick for three of the Bolshoi’s newest ballerinas. As he asks one of them to pick a card, he is pulled away by Arkady. Arkady explains that a gentleman (later revealed to be the Count’s friend Mishka) had knocked on the suite door of a Bolshevik Secretary. Mishka had been surprised to see the Secretary behind the door and burst into the suite, searching the rooms and discovering the Secretary’s wife on the toilet. The Count asks why Arkady is telling him this tale. Arkady explains that it had been the Count’s old suite—and that Mishka had been looking for the Count.
This introduction of Mishka presents some of his characteristics, which will be consistent throughout the novel: his strong-mindedness and passion, his general disregard for decorum, and his eventual disdain for the Bolsheviks. Unlike the Count, Mishka has a hard time adapting to the changing society around him, and insists that the way he does things is the correct way, even when it causes trouble.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Arkady takes the Count to the lobby and points out the gentleman. The Count immediately recognizes Mikhail Fyodorovich Mindich (Mishka), who is like a brother to him even though they had very different upbringings. While the Count had been raised in a mansion, Mishka grew up in a two-room apartment with his mother. They had met at University when the Count rushed to Mikhail’s aid in a fight, and they became fast friends.
Mishka’s friendship becomes even more valuable to the Count now that he has been imprisoned in the Metropol. This is because, as the Count points out later, Mishka becomes one of the last people alive who knew the Count as a young man, and who knew him before his time in the hotel.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count and Mishka (the Count’s nickname for Mikhail) retreat to the Count’s new room. Mishka notes that the Count didn’t like Montaigne’s essays, as they are being used to help prop up the Count’s desk. The Count asks why Mishka has come. Mishka produces a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the Count, now understanding why he’s come, brings Mishka back into his secret study.
Mishka is just as much a part of the Count’s family as any biological relative, demonstrated by the fact that he has brought the bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in order to continue a tradition that the Count’s family has had for many years.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Mishka thinks back to the summers when he would go to visit the Count’s family estate. The Countess enjoyed Mishka’s and the Count’s discourse questioning the standing of the church or the ruling class. Then the two friends would go in search of Helena, where the Count would tell her ridiculous tales of what had happened to him at school or on the train home. Helena, like the other members of the Count’s family, would often ask what was to become of the Count. Mishka thinks that those summers were idyllic, but that they belonged in the past with outmoded traditions and the servitude of the lower class.
In relaying some of the Count and Mishka’s boyhood antics, it is clear that the two men’s political leanings were not very different. However, it is perhaps easier for Mishka to accept the Russian Revolution because it did not come at the detriment of himself and his family, like it did for the Count. Additionally, it is notable that even at a young age, many of the Count’s family members felt that he lacked purpose, playing into the idea that it is only through his time in the hotel that he is able to find meaning in his life.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
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Mishka picks up a photo on the Count’s bookcase, which contains a picture of the Grand Duke when he signed the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War. He thinks back to 1910, when he first witnessed the Rostov family’s tradition of gathering on the tenth anniversary of a family member’s death and raising a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At that time, the Grand Duke had raised a glass to the Count’s late parents. Interrupting Mishka’s reverie, the Count hands him a glass, and they toast to the Grand Duke, whom Mishka describes with reverence as “a man of another time.”
Despite Mishka’s belief that the aristocracy and its traditions had largely been outdated, this does not mean that one should forget them entirely or that there are not elements of history that deserve respect. This becomes central to Mishka’s struggle with change in the novel, when he feels that old literary forms are being completely eradicated by the Bolsheviks simply because they predated the Soviet Union.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Later in the evening, Mishka tells the Count about the upcoming congress of RAPP, the Russian Association of Proletarian writers. Mishka conveys his excitement about how they will forge a new style of poetry for the age. Mishka compares the ages of poetry to the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages of history. He says that they have now entered the age of Steel—exemplified by the Shukhov Radio Tower, which can broadcast information for miles. Mishka says that poetry is also keeping up with this age, that the new poetry will become an art of action.
At this point in Mishka’s character arc, he is still very excited for the changes that are occurring in his art form, and he is excited to be a part of the association that is forging a new school of poetry. His argument that art and culture should mirror a society in progress is impeded, however, when the Bolsheviks start to censor and curtail his art form.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count is glad to hear Mishka speak so passionately, because he always worried that Mishka was out of step with the times. Now, he sees, Mishka is finally in the right place at the right time. When the twice-tolling clock strikes twelve, Mishka and the Count toast not only to the Grand Duke but also to Helena and the Countess, to Russia and the Rostov estate, to poetry and any other worthy thing they can think of.
The Count’s happiness is perhaps premature. Though Mishka is finally aligned with some of the political leanings of society as a whole (and no longer has to publish poems under someone else’s name, for example), the changes in this society are so rapid that he quickly falls out of step, and unlike the Count, is unable to adapt to those changes.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon