On a Wednesday evening in late June, the Count and Sofia walk into the Boyarsky. It is his night off, and they are ushered into the dining room by Andrey. Anna Urbanova is sitting at a nearby table with a few fans. Recently, she had been lured back to the stage, which was a stroke of fortune for the fifty-year-old actress. This was also fortunate for the Count, as she was now in residence at the Metropol for months at a time.
Anna shows herself to be adept at change as well, as she moves from film to the stage in order to maintain her career—and also to maintain her relationship with the Count. The continuation of their romance over so many years demonstrates their importance to each other, in a way that has moved far beyond the occasional fling.
The Count and Sofia study their menus and order. They then begin to play a game that they have made up entitled Zut. Zut’s rules are as follows: the first player proposes a category, like stringed instruments or famous islands. The two players go back and forth until one of them fails to come up with a fitting example of the category. Victory goes to the first player who wins two out of three rounds. The Count proposes famous foursomes as the first round, and the two go back and forth until Sofia is unable to come up with a set.
Zut is another playful invention between the Count and Sofia, which has been devised as entertainment for the time between ordering and eating. This perhaps had blossomed out of the Count’s fear that he would not be able to entertain Sofia when she was a young girl, and extended from the other games that he created for her.
Sofia comes up with the second category: animals that are black and white. Sofia is on the verge of losing when she comes up with herself (as she has dark hair with a strip of white hair where she hit her head). As Sofia counts down the seconds, the Count is interrupted by a professor from Leningrad State University. He asks for the Count to join him for a drink after dinner in suite 317. The Count agrees. When he turns back to Sofia, she declares his time is up.
Sofia demonstrates that through the years and through their many games, she still often stays one step ahead of the Count in cleverness (just like with the thimble game), keeping the dynamic of the daughter who outsmarts her father.
The Count and Sofia’s first course is served, and they never play while they eat, so they put the tying round on hold. Sofia remarks that Anna is in the restaurant, and asks why the Count never invites her for dinner. The Count laughs nervously and asks if he should invite Charlie Chaplin as well, trying to close the conversation. Sofia continues, saying that Marina thinks that the Count is worried that Sofia would be scandalized. The Count is shocked to hear that she and Marina discussed their relationship. Sofia tells him that Marina says he likes to keep his “buttons in their boxes,” meaning he likes to keep his relationships separate.
Even though the Count’s relationships with Sofia and Anna are both extremely meaningful to him, it is interesting that he attempts to keep them so separate from one another. Perhaps this is because the Count’s and Anna’s relationship predated Sofia, and the nontraditional nature of it might be difficult to explain to her as a young girl—just as it would be with any single father, particularly from a conservative, aristocratic background.
The second course is served, and the Count states that Emile has outdone himself, once again hoping to change subjects. Sofia says that Anna thinks the Count is set in his ways. At this, the Count nearly coughs up his entire swallow of wine. Sofia says that she and Anna have known each other for years. The Count is aghast and gets up, turning to go upstairs.
Despite the Count’s best efforts, Sofia and Anna have met and gotten to know each other, and as demonstrated later, Anna has become in some ways a kind of motherly figure who instructs Sofia in the ways of the world.
As the Count heads for the stairwell, he bumps into Anna. He tells her that he can’t believe that she and Sofia have been conversing behind his back. He tells her that wanting to keep one’s buttons in their boxes is not necessarily a bad thing. He goes upstairs.
The Count starts to experience a bit of a family dynamic, worrying about his partner and his daughter ganging up on him behind his back.
The Count knocks on the door of his old suite, which he has not visited since that fateful day in 1926 when he stood on the parapet. He follows the professor into the sitting room, where he finds Richard, to his surprise. Richard explains that he wanted to speak with the Count in private before he leaves, as he will be working out of the embassy in Paris for a few years.
Although this chance encounter with Richard serves little purpose now, there are a few key details that become vital to the Count’s escape later: Richard’s desire to work with him on state matters, and the fact that Richard will be stationed in Paris.
Richard then explains that relations between America and Russia have been less than ideal after the war, and that when Stalin dies, things will be unpredictable. Depending on the next person in charge, the doors of the city could either be flung open to the world, or bolted shut. The Count says that they must hope for the former; Richard agrees that they certainly cannot hope for the latter, but either way it is helpful to anticipate the events to come.
As the political landscape is poised to shift once again, the Count and Richard’s discussion show just how much the Bolshevik party has changed over the course of Stalin’s rule (and the Count’s imprisonment). Whereas at first it was completely isolationist, now the country is open to foreigners and will soon begin to allow its citizens outside the country.
Richard asks the Count if he is willing to keep an eye on political events at the Metropol and report back. The Count politely declines, asking that they not speak of this again. Instead, the men spend the next hour catching up. The Count tells Richard about Sofia’s progress at the Conservatory; Richard tells the Count about his young sons. At nine o’clock, they part ways.
For all of the trouble that the current government has caused the Count, he still has great loyalty for his country overall, regardless of who is in power. Thus, instead of agreeing to spy, the Count gently returns instead to his friendship with Richard, and speaking about their children.
Almost nine months later, in March 1953, Stalin dies in the aftermath of a stroke. Over a million citizens stand in line to watch as his coffin is transported. Western observers wonder why so many would stand in line to see the corpse of a tyrant, but the attendees mourn the loss of the man who led them to victory against Hitler and drove Russia to be a world power, and also because a new era of uncertainty is now beginning.
The narrator brings in more reasons why the Bolshevik party, led by Stalin, was a positive change for the people of Russia. After the Revolution, Stalin served as a strong and particularly stable leader, and even if many of the decisions of the government were ultimately to the detriment of the people, Russia survived.
Eight different men could reasonably claim the right to be the next leader. The favorite is the progressive Malenkov, who is appointed as both Premier of the Party and General Secretary of the Central Committee, like Stalin had been. But a consensus forms that no man should be allowed to simultaneously hold these two positions, and so he passes his General Secretary position to Nikita Khrushchev, setting the stage for a battle between the two.
Now, with a new era of uncertainty and change, the future of Soviet Russia depends on its next leader. Of course, history shows that Khrushchev emerges victorious, but one of the upcoming plots of the novel concerns how he painted himself to be a progressive even though he was highly conservative.
Later in the evening, the Count lies in Anna’s bed, debating what he and Richard had spoken about. The Count says that if the Former (opening the city doors) is even a remote possibility, the forces of the Latter (bolting them shut) will never win. Anna doesn’t disagree with the Count, but says that in New York, there would never even be a question of closing the city’s doors.
The Count and Anna once again show the depth of their relationship, as their topics of conversation move into the political future of the country. Anna is not only a romance for the Count, but also a sounding board for his thoughts and a true partner.
The Count comments that it sounds like Anna wants to live in America. She counters that everyone wants to live in America, if only for the conveniences: clothes washing machines, dishwashing machines, vacuum cleaners, toasters, televisions, automatic garage doors. The Count says that if he were a garage door, he would miss the old days. He says that the best conveniences are sleeping until noon and having someone bring in a breakfast tray, or having a carriage waiting at the door of a party to take you to another. He says that at one point, he had them all, but in the end, it was the inconveniences that mattered the most. Anna kisses him on the nose.
Until the end of the novel, this is the most definitive the Count ever is about saying that Anna, Sofia, and the other relationships he has made are more important to him than his old lifestyle was. In a way, this implies that he feels fortunate that he was imprisoned in the Metropol, because even though he lost the conveniences of the upper class, he gained the “inconveniences” of a daughter and a romantic partner.