A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 3, Absinthe Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That same night, the Count heads to the Shalyapin at 12:15 A.M. and is amazed at the sound of “gay abandon” in the bar, which would have been unthinkable ten years before. He attributes it to the return of American jazz, foreign correspondents, and three beautiful hostesses that joined the staff in 1929. Once a week, however, the hostesses visit a gray building and report whatever they happen to hear from the foreign journalists. But the foreign journalists are quite aware of these reports, and have a standing bet that anyone who could be summoned by the Kremlin for their outrageous statements would win ten American dollars.
The Count observes how much has changed in the life of the Metropol’s bar in the past ten years: not only a reopening of the hotel to foreign journalists and foreign forms of entertainment and styles, but also a deep skepticism of foreign people by the Russian government. Yet, the foreign correspondents have also adapted to this new cynicism in Russia, learning and playing into the fact that the Kremlin is listening to their every conversation, and even making a game out of it.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
The Count approaches Audrius at the bar and asks for absinthe. He takes his drink upstairs to the Boyarsky’s kitchen. The Count, Andrey, and Emile had long had a desire to share a certain dish, but many of the ingredients were hard to find.  A stroke of luck and a mistaken delivery had brought haddock and mussels to the Metropol, and a favor had to be called in from Anna in order to get saffron. Now they have all fifteen ingredients necessary.
Luck plays its part in giving the Count, Andrey, and Emile their success in crafting a long-awaited meal: in the mistaken delivery of mussels and haddock; in Anna’s ability to get saffron; in Andrey’s quickness in acquiring oranges. All the ingredients happen to come together, not unlike the “ingredients” of the narrative itself.
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
On the way to the Boyarsky, the Count is stopped by the Bishop, who asks where the Count is going. The Count says that he has lost his pen in the Boyarsky. The Bishop quips, “Where is it now?” before disappearing down the hall.
As the story goes on, it seems that the Bishop does not represent the ideals of Bolshevism so much as he represents a petty spitefulness and blind hatred for the aristocracy, as he taunts the Count with his own poem.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count arrives in the kitchen, absinthe in hand. A few moments later, as Emile prepares, Andrey arrives from the back stair with a pile of oranges tumbling from his arms. As he tries to gather them up, the doorway to the kitchen opens and reveals the Bishop once again. The Bishop asks what brings them all to the kitchen. Andrey says that the three of them are taking inventory, but Emile simply steams at the Bishop’s tone and inquiry. He threatens the Bishop as he reaches for his knife and the Bishop runs out the door. When Emile looks up, however, he has accidentally grabbed a celery stalk. The three men burst into laughter.
As all of the pieces come together, the Bishop makes a reappearance to put a stop to their scheming. Yet here, Emile and Andrey prove their absolute loyalty to the Count and their deep friendship. They find a common enemy in the Bishop and his stringency, but also find a common goal to work towards in pulling together the meal that they are about to share. Thus, not only does the Count find purpose and freedom as a result of his job, but he also finds friendship that gives his life even more meaning.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
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At one in the morning, the Count, Emile, and Andrey enjoy the fruits of their labors: three bowls of bouillabaisse (a decadent seafood stew). They pay their compliments to the chef and spend the evening talking about their childhoods, their loves, and their passions. Andrey reveals he had worked in a circus as a juggler, demonstrating his skills with the unused oranges before moving on to knives.
The Count, Emile, and Andrey then have what the Count eventually considers to be one of the happiest nights of his life, as they share their experiences in the way that true friends do. The reveal of Andrey’s circus days demonstrates how he has, like the Count, adapted his skills to fit his job.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
At 3:30 in the morning, the Count stumbles back to his room. He thinks about the day he has had, and how Marina had been right about Nina. In stories, Death often lurks in the shadows and waits to pay a visit. But Life, he thinks, is as devious as Death. It had given Mishka love and sent Andrey to the circus, and would one day find Nina, too. The Count falls asleep in his chair.
In personifying the idea of “Life,” the Count reveals again how he believes that people and lucky occurrences all work together to fulfill a fated purpose. Ironically, the purpose that Life seems to have for Nina and the purpose that it has for the Count are inextricably linked, as he eventually raises her daughter.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
The following morning, the Count goes to finish Mishka’s letter, but cannot find it in his pocket. He thinks that it must have fallen out during the course of the day, but in fact it he had taken it out of his pocket when he returned to his room and drunkenly knocked it behind his bookcase. The narrator speculates that this might have been for the better, because the real reason that Mishka had written was because one of his favorite poets, the poet laureate of the Revolution, had shot himself through the heart.
This ominous detail that the narrator reveals foreshadows the difficulty that Mishka will soon encounter with the Bolshevik party. Like the poet laureate he looked up to and who killed himself, he will have a hard time surviving in a literary society that is comfortable with censorship and willing to exile anyone who uses free speech against the government.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon