A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 2, 1923, An Actress, an Apparition, an Apiary Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At five o’clock on June 21st, 1923, one year since the Count’s imprisonment, the Count ponders how to celebrate the anniversary. He thinks about men in prison cells who carve notches into wood to mark the days, in order to note the year of hardship they have endured. Feeling a sense of survival, the Count dons his finest smoking jacket and heads downstairs to meet Mishka.
While the Count has not endured the hardship of being trapped in a prison, he has certainly had to undergo the increased burden of a restless mind; one that will continue to grow through the coming years up until the incident on the roof.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Upon reaching the lobby, the Count notices a willowy figure (later introduced as Anna Urbanova) coming through the hotel doors. She is a woman in her mid-twenties with auburn hair and a striking presence. She attracts attention quickly, particularly because of the two massive hunting dogs she has on a leash. They tug every which way while she tries to keep them under control.
Anna’s description at her introduction, as the narrator explains later, places her at the height of her first wave of fame. Though her self-confidence never wavers, over time she gains a humility from being forced to adapt and revive her career several times.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
At that moment, the one-eyed cat appears, and the dogs leap out of Anna’s grip. They quickly knock over a lamp and a standing ashtray. The cat reverses course and the dogs skid across the floor into another guest. After watching this chaos for a few moments, the Count whistles and the dogs heel at his feet.
The dogs that Anna is carrying are another detail that lead to this chance meeting in the Count’s life. Without their presence, he might never have had reason to meet and begin a relationship with Anna Urbanova.
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
Anna thanks the Count, apologizing that the dogs are not well-behaved. The Count contradicts her, saying that it is the dogs’ handling that is at fault. Anna’s tone becomes noticeably sharper as she remarks that some of the best-bred dogs belong on the shortest leashes; the Count rejoins that the best-bred dogs belong in the surest hands.
Ironically, the dogs’ unruliness gives the Count a negative first impression of Anna, but later on she is able to change his mind. Their matching of wits in an argument is one of the reasons that they become such close friends and lovers.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
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One hour later, the Count sits in the hotel bar waiting for Mishka when he notices Anna once again, sitting with a “round-faced fellow with a receding hairline.” He meets her gaze, and the two pretend that they have not seen each other.
In the prior chapter, the narrator pointed out the importance of the round-faced fellow. However, the character will not actually become narratively significant until much later, again creating a sense of fate in the novel.
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
Mishka arrives in the bar, but explains that he can only stay for a drink, not for dinner. The Count is disappointed, but understands that Mishka is here on important business with the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. Mishka explains how excited he is by the congress’s declarations that they are in solidarity with writers, publishers, and editors, but also with the street sweepers and welders, as well.
As the congress of the RAPP progresses, Mishka is excited that the intentions of poetry are coming in line with his political sensibilities of everyone working together and being equal—values supported by the Bolsheviks.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
Mishka describes a spontaneous poem recited by one of his favorite writers, Mayakovsky. Then, another writer, whom Mishka disliked, had proclaimed that all poets must bow before the haiku. The Count jokes that he is glad Homer wasn’t born in Japan.
Even though the Count and Mishka joke about the future of Russian poetry, Mishka eventually comes to see that there will be limits placed on artistic freedom, and doubts that he can adapt to a censored form of art.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
Mishka laughs and says that he will have to tell the Count’s joke to Katerina—another young poet from Kiev. The Count notes that Mishka has been dressing better and grooming his beard, and sees that Katerina might be sparking some interest in his friend. The Count is glad to hear about his friend’s happenings, but he is also a bit jealous of his freedom.
When the narrator ultimately reveals that the Count published “Where Is It Now” to save Mishka’s life, moments like this become particularly charged. The Count put himself at risk for his friend, but still cannot help being jealous of the experiences that are unavailable to him.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Half an hour later, Mishka leaves the bar. As the Count gets up, Audrius beckons him and gives him a note from Anna Urbanova, who he explains is a famous film star. The note reads “Please allow me a second chance at a first impression in suite 208.”
While the Count expresses his jealousy over Mishka’s budding romance, little does he know that his fated first encounter with Anna will lead to his own romance.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
The Count arrives at suite 208 and is let in by an older woman, who then steps out of the suite. Anna greets him and introduces herself officially. Room service arrives with a candlelit dinner for two. Anna asks the Count to join her for dinner, and he agrees.
Anna’s directness and her boldness leaves the Count one step behind her for the evening, which both surprises him and causes his admiration for her to grow.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Anna uncovers their dinner to find one of Emile’s signature dishes: whole bass roasted with olives. Before the Count can serve her, Anna quickly debones the fish and prepares two perfect plates. The Count is impressed. Anna explains that she had been raised in a fishing village, and that she would help her father mend his nets at the docks when she was a little girl. The Count inwardly acknowledges the virtues of withholding judgement, considering how much Anna’s second impression on him has improved.
Similar to the way in which the Count admires Emile for his proficiency in cooking, or Andrey for his proficiency in taking care of guests, the Count sees Anna’s skill in serving the fish as a quality he associates with etiquette and old-fashioned talents. Additionally, hearing about her childhood also surprises him and makes him more and more attracted to her.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count speaks a bit about his own childhood. The province in which he grew up, Nizhny Novgorod, was the apple capital of the world, and he would eat apples constantly. He tells Anna that according to lore, deep in the forest lies a tree that grew apples as black as coal, and if one could eat this apple, one could start life anew. She asks him if he would start life anew. He says that he would not want to relinquish his memories: of his sister Helena, of his home, and of this night. Anna stands, takes him by the collar and kisses him.
The Count opens up to Anna in a way that he has not with any other character in the novel thus far. Anna’s question regarding whether he would begin life anew also marks an interesting turning point for the Count. He says that he would not want to relinquish his memories of his home and his family, which makes sense for a man stuck in the past. But in saying that he also does not want to forget this night, the Count implies that he would not change his imprisonment, which led him to meeting Anna.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count is both bewildered and excited by being seduced in this way, as he did not anticipate any of the events of the night. He had been surprised by the dinner, by Anna’s stories, and by her fish preparing skills, and the surprises continue. He is surprised to find her back decorated with freckles, surprised to find himself on his back as the two make love, and awestruck when she tells him close the curtains as he leaves.
Anna’s kiss initiates a longstanding relationship between her and the Count, one to which they return every time Anna stays in the Metropol. In this way, their relationship grows more and more like a partnership (in place of a traditional marriage, which would be difficult for the Count to maintain).
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count closes the curtains, hangs Anna’s blouse in the closet, and shuts the door softly behind him. As he walks down the empty corridor, the Count feels like a ghost. He wonders why ghosts roam the halls at night rather than during the day, and comes to the conclusion that they do not want to see the living. At least, interjects the narrator, that is what he tells himself. The Count runs into the one-eyed cat on the way up and attempts to tuck his shirt in, embarrassed. He worries that instead of etching his mark on the wall for his first year, the wall had “etched its mark on him.”
Even with this newfound relationship, the Count’s late-night exile causes him to liken himself to a ghost. The remark that he feels like the wall had etched its mark on him mirrors the earlier counsel of the Grand Duke to make sure that the Count’s circumstances did not master him. Thus, Anna’s self-assuredness, purpose, and vitality only serve to make the Count feel more invisible, because he has none of those things.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Just before the Count opens the door to his rooms, he feels a slight summer breeze. Intrigued, he walks to the end of the hall and discovers a ladder to a hatch in the roof. The Count climbs up is amazed at seeing the view of Moscow from this vantage point.
The chance of the open door and the breeze leads the Count to the roof, where he is able to be outside again for the first time in years, allowing him to feel a little less confined.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
One of the hotel handymen, Abram, greets the Count, startling him. Abram makes him coffee and shows him his apiary. The bees are hard at work making honey, and Abram offers the Count a taste. The Count is amazed to taste a hint of lilacs, which Abram explains comes from the flowers in the Alexander Gardens. The Count asks how far the bees go, and Abram says that a bee’s only limit is the ocean. The Count explains that his childhood home had lots of apple blossoms; Abram says he had been raised in the same province. The two men continue to speak about their childhood as the sun rises.
While the discovery of the roof eventually leads to the Count’s attempt to commit suicide, it also leads him to the person who ultimately saves his life: Abram, who happens to be from the same province as the Count. In making this new friend, the Count is able to relate to someone who shares some of his childhood experiences, which has become difficult for him to do with the loss of his family.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon