A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 3, Ascending, Alighting Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At two o’clock, the Count and Sofia pay a visit to Marina, who is surprised to see him with a little girl in tow. Marina leads Sofia around her office and instructs an assistant to show Sofia their collection of fabrics and buttons. The Count explains the events of the day before and asks if Marina can watch Sofia for an hour while he is at the Boyarsky’s daily meeting, which she agrees to do. Seeing how good Marina is with Sofia, he starts to hint that Sofia needs someone with a mother’s touch. Marina stops him and tells him not to ask her to take on that responsibility, but instead to take it on himself.
The Count continues to exhibit some of the qualities of new parenthood, particularly when he doubts his own ability altogether. Seeing how good Marina is with Sofia, he wonders if she might not make a better caregiver to Sofia. Like a true friend, Marina is direct with the Count that he accepted the responsibility, and thus he must be the one to take care of Sofia.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count rushes off to the Boyarsky meeting, trying to think up a long-term solution regarding who can watch Sofia while he is at work. For tonight, he simply plans to request the evening off. When he arrives at the meeting, however, Andrey reminds him that he has his usual appointment with Osip that night, and that there is a dinner for the country’s leading car manufacturer at seven in the Red Room. The Count assures Andrey that he will see to the event personally.
The Count is late to every appointment he has from here through the rest of the day, demonstrating that not only has Sofia given him a new way of leading a meaningful life, but she has also completely evaporated the expanses of time and ennui that had been so lethal to him early on in his imprisonment.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count prepares the seating for the dinner. When he finishes, he realizes that it is already 3:15 and that he is late for Anna’s requested rendezvous. He dashes up the stairs to Anna’s room and apologizes that he will not be able to see her today. He instead asks if he can borrow her two suitcases.
As with any new parent, the Count must learn to juggle his responsibilities of raising a child, keeping his job at the Boyarsky, and seeing other friends—and often, dates with friends become the first casualties.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count then takes the suitcases to the laundry room, packing sheets, a bedcover, a towel, and two pillows. He brings the suitcases back up to his room and unpacks. Next, he pulls a mattress from an adjacent room, but realizes that it will take up the remaining space on the floor. Remembering his enjoyment of sleeping in train cars as a child, he takes food cans from the Boyarsky and stacks them on top of his mattress to make a second bunk for Sofia.
As the Count starts to adjust his time and space, he realizes that Sofia staying even a month or two (though her stay eventually becomes much longer) means making plans for large and long-term adjustments. He tries to anticipate the necessary changes he has to make in order to provide her with a good life at the hotel.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
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The Count returns to Marina’s office, discovering that Sofia and Marina have spent the time sewing a new dress for her doll. Marina then offers to watch Sofia for the evening—but she says that the Count must find another person after that. She suggests one of the unmarried chambermaids who works in the hotel. Marina then assures the Count that he is up for the challenge of taking care of Sofia. Giving him a thimble as a gesture, she tells him that children take pleasure in the smallest things.
Though Marina refuses to be Sofia’s exclusive caregiver, she still offers her services when she can and gives her typical valued advice, akin to the way a sister might. She assures the Count that he has the ability to be a good father. This needed reassurance is what allows the Count to ultimately find so much purpose in raising a daughter.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count takes Sofia back to the attic, showing her the secret room for the first time. He suggests that they play a game: she will go into the other room and count to one hundred twice (she cannot count to two hundred), while the Count hides the thimble somewhere in the room. She agrees, and the Count hides it in a relatively easy place on his bookcase. She finds it almost immediately. The Count hides the thimble a second time, trying to provide more of a challenge. He places it on the other side of the room from the bookcase, under his leather case. It takes her twenty seconds to find.
Marina’s small gift of a thimble serves as a simple object that can provide hours of entertainment. This gesture harkens back to the Count’s own enjoyment of getting a wooden sword from his parents at Christmas, which he had described in an earlier chapter. Thus, the Count tries to create some of the same experiences for Sofia that he had as a child, in a way passing on a family tradition.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Sofia tells the Count that it is her turn to hide the thimble. As he goes out of the room, Sofia tugs on his sleeve and makes him promise not to peek. As he counts, he hears the room shuffling. He returns and gives a quick survey of the room, but he does not see the thimble. He looks more earnestly, pondering the problem from Sofia’s point of view, but still cannot find it. He looks wildly around the room, but eventually gives up. She gets up and takes the thimble out of his jacket pocket. The Count protests, but Sofia argues that his pocket was in the room when she hid the thimble and while the Count searched. He bows to her cleverness.
Sofia’s turn in playing the thimble game introduces her playful and clever streak, as up to this point she has been described as an obedient and quiet child. This introduces the series of games that she and the Count will play in the years to come. The Count is amused by these games, constantly surprised by Sofia’s intellect and unexpectedly mischievous nature.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
At six o’clock, the Count returns to the Boyarsky. He oversees the dinner in the Red Room and then heads down to the Yellow room at ten o’clock for his appointment with Osip. They have been dining once a month since 1930. At first, they dedicated their studies to the French, then to the British. But more recently, they have shifted their attention to the United States.
The shift in the attention of Osip and the Count from French and British culture to American culture reflects the new inclusion of America among Europe’s and the Bolsheviks’ alliances, and Osip works to adjust with those changing coalitions.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
For this meeting, the Count had told Osip to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. But as Osip starts to discuss the book, it becomes clear to him that the Count has not, in fact, read it. Osip angrily throws the book into a painting. The Count apologizes, saying that he had planned to read much of the book that day, but he was interrupted by Sofia’s arrival. Osip understands, and the two agree to discuss de Tocqueville at their next meeting.
The Count continues to realize the massive effect that Sofia will have on his time. He no longer has the free hours that he once did in to read the book he assigned to Osip. The “de Toqueville Affair,” as it will come to be known, also causes the Count and Osip to adjust even more as they switch to studying films.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
At eleven o’clock the Count starts to run back to Marina’s office to pick up Sofia. At the top of the stairs, however, he is surprised to find his friend Mishka. The Count sees that something is troubling his friend, and so he takes him back to his study. Mishka explains that he has nearly completed editing volumes of Anton Chekhov’s collected letters, a project he has been working on for four years.
Even though Sofia has become so immediately important to him, the Count still makes time for Mishka, again showing a brother-like devotion to him, particularly when he sees that Mishka seems troubled by something.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
That morning, Mishka’s editor, Shalamov, had asked him to come to his office. Shalamov pointed to a passage in which Chekhov praises the bread in Berlin, and said that Russians who hadn’t traveled didn’t know how good bread could be. Shalamov then asked that that sentence be edited out. Mishka had been shocked by this proposal of censorship, but he struck the passage and walked out of the room without a word.
The reason Shalamov asks Mishka to edit the sentence is because bread is a Russian symbol of hospitality, and so praising the bread in Germany appears particularly anti-Russian. Additionally, the sentence plays on some of the hardships of the time: there is widespread famine and most people are still not allowed to travel outside Russia, and so to Shalamov, this also feels specifically like anti-Bolshevik rhetoric, even though the letters predate the Revolution.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count tells Mishka that he is in the right to do what he did—that it is only one sentence out of thousands. He counsels Mishka to go back to his hotel and get some rest, and they could see each other the next night and toast to the completion of the work. He then moves Mishka gently towards the door so that he can pick Sofia up.
Even though the Count considers Mishka to be like a brother, he realizes that he has an even greater responsibility to the child he is now caring for.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count picks Sofia up at 11:40. Despite the late hour, Sofia had insisted on staying up. It is clear that she is tired, however, as she practically drags him back to the room. She quickly changes and prepares for bed. Before turning in, she watches as the clock’s minute hand catches up with its hour hand, and hears the twice-tolling clock chime midnight. She promptly goes to bed.
Sofia, for her part, has also taken to treating the Count like a father. She quickly becomes attached to him and also wants to make sure that he will be coming back for her, now that she has lost her biological father and Nina has gone off in search of him.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count then prepares for bed as quickly as Sofia had, exhausted from the long day. But as the Count sinks into bed, a series of worries keeps him awake. He is worried about Mishka’s battle with the editor, about Nina and her journey east, and about Sofia. He is concerned that some bureaucrat will become aware of Sofia’s residency and forbid it. He also worries about how he will entertain her the next morning.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the Count is so concerned, particularly about these three people, is that he has already lost so many members of his family. Thus, the thought of losing people whom he has essentially adopted as his family is especially anxiety-inducing for him.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The narrator tells the reader that the Count had good reason to be worried about Mishka. The next morning, Mishka passes a statue of writer Maxim Gorky, who had established Socialist Realism as the sole artistic style of the Russian people. As a result, other writers that Mishka had looked up to had not written in years.
The narrator describes some of Mishka’s difficulty in accepting the changes of society: even though one of his favorite poets had been in charge of establishing the new poetry, this also led to the stifling of other artistic talents.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Mishka returns to Shalamov’s office, and angrily asks if he plans to cut The Brothers Karamazov in half today. Shalamov sees that he is upset and asks to meet with him later. Mishka cries out that he is sure Shalamov has other important business to attend to, like moving statues and erasing lines of poetry. He concludes by screaming that the future of Russian poetry is the haiku and storms out. Within a week, Mishka will be invited to the offices of the secret police for questioning. The following March, he is sent on a train to Siberia.
Spurred by remembering the fallout of rigid limits on artistic freedoms, Mishka becomes even more outraged at the censorship he has been asked to accept. But in disagreeing with the Bolsheviks and the society that they have formed, Mishka is forced completely out of it when he is sent to Siberia.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
The narrator states that the Count is also probably right to worry about Nina, for she will never return to the Metropol. The Count will try to contact her to no avail. She also disappears into Siberia.
Nina experiences a similar fate to Mishka: unable to accept the changes in society and the harshness of famine brought about by the Bolsheviks, she disappears as well.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
The Count is also right to worry about Sofia’s presence being noted. The narrator reveals that within two weeks, a report will be sent to the Kremlin. However, it will be noted that the Count has a relationship with Anna, who is also reportedly having an affair with a certain round-faced Commissar. Thus, it will be suspected that this young girl—who appeared on the same day the actress was in residence at the hotel—is the illegitimate child of the Commissar. And so the report will be stuffed in a drawer under lock and key.
Though the Count is right to worry about Sofia’s ability to stay in the hotel, several strokes of luck allow her to stay: the fact that the Count is still in a relationship with Anna; the fact that Anna is also rumored to be in a relationship with the round-faced fellow, who makes another fateful appearance here; and the fact that Anna was staying at the hotel when Sofia first arrived.
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
But, the narrator reassures the reader that the Count does not have to worry about entertaining Sofia in the morning, as she continues to ask questions about his life at Idlehour. The narrator returns to the present night. Instead of counting sheep, the Count calculates the flights of stairs he climbed throughout the day, discovering the total to be fifty-nine before he slips into a well-deserved sleep.
Following the small addendum that accompanies this chapter, the next chapter begins eight years later—the longest skipping of time in the novel. This formal device also reflects the feeling of parenthood, as the activity and sense of purpose cause time to pass in a blur, as the Count has already begun to experience on this first full day with Sofia.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon