The narrator exclaims in false wonder how the twisting paths of Anna and the Count could have led them back into each other’s arms. The narrator goes on to say that the path that twisted was not the Count’s, but Anna’s.
The narrator continues to comment on the way chance and fate interplay and interfere in the characters’ lives, explaining how Anna and the Count found their way back to each other.
The narrator goes back to 1923, the first time the Count met Anna. She had been an unambiguous celebrity, starring in two historical romances directed by Ivan Rosotsky after he discovered her in a regional theater. Both of the films were popular with the public, and by 1923 she was given the mansion of a former fur merchant.
Although Anna was not born wealthy, she came into wealth and quickly adapted to a life of fame and fortune. Her subsequent fall from grace would cause her to sympathize with the Count’s situation, and reevaluate how she could keep up her career.
But at the premiere of Anna’s fourth film (in which she played a princess mistaken for an orphan), the audience noted that General Secretary Stalin was not smiling at the screen. An open letter was written about the film saying that it was entertaining, but too obsessed with the era of princes and princesses, and too focused on individuals.
The narrator describes Anna’s fall from grace, due to the fact that her films and roles had seemed out-of-step with the changing political landscape. Due to Stalin’s disapproval, the rest of the country followed suit, demonstrating the leader’s powerful influence over the people’s opinions.
When these sentiments were echoed in other papers, Anna tried to distance herself from the director, but her downfall was provided not by this development but by the invention of the talking picture. Anna had a far huskier voice than audiences imagined, and so in 1928, at age 29, Anna became a “has-been.” In a matter of months, her possessions and her mansion were gone, and she and her dresser moved into a one-room apartment.
Fate intervenes once again, as Anna’s deep and seasoned voice conflicts with people’s idea of what she might sound like after the invention of the talking picture. In a coincidental twist, however, Anna’s voice is also what later contributes to the resurgence of her career.
The Count had then seen Anna a second time, in November 1928, eight months after she lost her mansion. She reserved a table in the Boyarsky for herself and a director. To the Count, it appeared that they had a pleasant conversation and that she was perfectly charming, but the director had to run out instead of joining her for one more drink.
Even in the midst of a failing career, Anna never gives up. She gets dinner and drinks with various directors and works persistently to improve her situation. Only through this perseverance is she able to acquire the experience that helps her find success again.
Disappointed, Anna turned from the door and instantly saw the Count. She invited him back to her room, number 428—a modest room with a small bedroom and a small sitting area. She had prepared a serving of caviar and a bottle of vodka for the director. Not wanting it to go to waste, the two drank to old times.
This chance of the director not joining Anna for a drink had also allowed her and the Count to rekindle their romance, creating a pattern that would last for years. Their relationship becomes more and more familiar as a result.
The narrator explains that, faced with disappointment and setbacks, one has two options. One can either hide all evidence that one’s circumstances have changed; or, like the Count and Anna, one can join the “Confederacy of the Humbled.” The Count then asked Anna how the dogs were. When she replied that they were better off than her, they toasted to the dogs.
The narrator’s comparison of Anna to the Count connects the idea that they have both adjusted their lives when faced with adversity and failure. Anna and the Count also acknowledge the luck of their meeting when toasting to the dogs, without whom they would not have interacted.
Over the following year and a half, Anna had visited the Metropol every few months, getting dinner with a director, but not inviting him for an additional drink. Anna would then return to her room on the fourth floor, change into a simple dress, and wait for the Count.
As Anna and the Count see each other more frequently, they also act more like they are in a traditional relationship, establishing patterns and routines, and making their meetings less extravagant and more intimate.
Due to one such dinner, Anna was cast in a small role as a middle-aged worker in a factory that was struggling to meet its quota. Anna’s character gave a short, impassioned speech to inspire the workers to push on. The audience could tell from her voice that both the character and the actress had a life of experience doing hard work.
Anna’s voice, which had been a liability before, now becomes an asset as people see her as a hardworking woman. By taking this role, she has also adapted to changing political sentiments, opting for a factory worker instead of a princess.
When the film had premiered, a round-faced fellow with a receding hairline had been in attendance. He had once met Anna in the Metropol in 1923, but now he was a senior official in the Ministry of Culture. He asked every director if they had seen her performance. But Anna also had a reputation for working hard, appearing on time, and never complaining. And so while official preference shifted towards realistic movies, there was often a role for Anna.
Here, the narrator finally reveals the importance of the round-faced fellow, who had been hinted at in a footnote and then introduced quietly alongside Anna. As a Minister of Culture, he becomes one of the reasons that Anna is able to get more jobs.
The narrator remarks that there were many factors within and without Anna’s control that contributed to her comeback, which is true of any successful person. And so, Anna had once again become a star with a mansion—though now, she greets her guests at the door instead of making them wait as she descends the stairs.
The narrator sums up the interplay of two themes in the chapter: that so much of what determines success is up to fate, but it is also important to adapt in whatever ways a person can control, just as Anna had.
At 4:45 in the afternoon, the Count traces the constellations on Anna’s back. He points out one that looks like Delphinus, the dolphin, between her shoulder blades. He asks if she knows the story of Delphinus, as a fisherman’s daughter. She asks him to tell it. He relays the story: a wealthy poet and lyre player named Arion was returning from Sicily when his crew mutinied. They gave him the option of killing himself or being thrown into the sea. Arion sang a sorrowful song, and as a result a group of dolphins gathered around the ship and carried him to shore. As a reward, Apollo placed the dolphin among the stars to shine for eternity.
The story of Arion and Delphinus has some parallels with the Count’s own story. The Count is a wealthy man whose society rebelled against him, and so he had to either commit suicide (which he attempted to do) or fend for himself and attempt to survive. Perhaps the implication here is that Anna is one of the dolphins who saves him, because she provides him with comfort and a sense of family.
The Count asks Anna to tell a tale of the sea. She admits that she doesn’t know any, because she wasn’t actually raised by a fisherman. Her father was a peasant and she had learned how to debone fish when she worked in a tavern. The Count is disappointed that she lied to him, and gets up to go. She stops him, saying she does remember a sea story that her grandmother had once told her.
The fact that Anna’s father was a peasant makes her meteoric rise even more impressive, but the Count seems to be preoccupied with the fact that Anna lied. The Count has thought of her as a partner, and so he seems disappointed that she might not have been open or honest with him.
Anna begins a tale about a rich merchant with a fleet of ships and three sons. One spring, the merchant gave his older sons ships with many expensive goods, instructing one to travel east and one to travel west. When the youngest son, who was rather small in stature, asked where his boat was, the merchant and older sons only laughed at him. The merchant gave him a ragged boat, a toothless crew, and told him to sail until the sun never set in December.
Anna’s story plays into one of the novels’ main themes, and also bears some comparison to her own journey. Given what the Count has just learned about her very modest upbringing, it is possible that the young son is a stand-in for Anna herself, as he also perseveres against difficult odds to become successful.
So, the son sailed southward until the crew reached a land where the sun never set in December. They landed on an island with a mountain of salt. Even though it was very common to them, they loaded up the ship’s ballast with salt. They continued to sail until they reached a kingdom with which they could trade their salt. The king, however, said he had never heard of salt and sent them on their way. Nonetheless, the son paid a visit to the kitchens and discreetly sprinkled salt on all the food. The king remarked at how much better the food was, and the next afternoon, the merchant’s son set sail in a ship with a bag of gold for every sack of salt. The Count tells Anna that her story is a good one, but that it does not absolve her of her lies.
The young son, like Anna, also benefits from a combination of determination, a willingness to adapt, and luck. For even though the crew didn’t think salt would be a very profitable commodity, their willingness to take a chance was rewarded when they came upon a kingdom that did not have salt, and so they were able to offer just what the king needed. Similarly, Anna’s voice was useful just at the right place and the right time, when someone with her experience and her voice was needed in movies about persistent factory workers.