The Count is pacing in his room for what has seemed an interminable amount of time. Sofia is playing at a concert and the performance is scheduled to end by eleven and the reception by twelve. He wonders if perhaps she and the group attending the performance had stopped for a pastry on their way back., and he is surprised to hear the clock strike only midnight. He thinks to himself how this day has been a day of exasperations.
The Count again shows his protective side, as he worries about Sofia’s performance at the concert. As his daughter ventures out into the world, he also starts to be cognizant of the fact that he once again feels trapped within the hotel because he cannot join her. This eventually sparks his idea to escape the hotel.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Boyarsky staff had been assembled by the assistant manager, who explained that orders from now on would be taken with pen and paper. The bookkeeper would make an entry for the order and a cooking slip. Then an entry would be made in the cooking log and the cooking could begin. When the food was ready, a confirmation slip would be provided to the waiter who would serve the food. When the new regimen had been put into practice that evening, the customers were bemused to see the slips of paper, but beside themselves to find all of their food cold.
The change in the Boyarsky’s serving system is a bureaucratic change that the Bishop makes in the name of efficiency and keeping everything above board, but in reality makes things more difficult. This serves as another example of getting rid of a traditional way of doing things simply for the satisfaction of doing so.
In the middle of the evening, the Bishop had paid a visit to the Boyarsky. The Count appealed to him, asking if they could abolish the pencil and paper. The Bishop stated that he was trying to eliminate the discrepancies between how much food started in the kitchen and how much food was served. The Count grew cold at the implication of theft, and told the Bishop that he would relate their conversation to Emile and Andrey in their daily meeting. And so, the new system continued throughout the evening.
The Bishop also seems particularly picky about the Boyarsky and its systems because the Count had been so critical of him when he was a waiter, and this serves as another piece of his personal vendetta against the Count and the traditional systems he represents.
Back in the Count’s study, he starts humming Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, the piece Sofia is playing at her competition. He wonders if the judges might think that the song is too “delightful” and not weighty enough. But he understands that it is the job of a parent to share opinions but then to take three or four steps back.
As Sofia grows older, the Count begins to realize that one of the aspects of parenthood involves slowly letting one’s child lead a life of purpose themselves, as he hopes she does. But this is still difficult for him, as the Count himself feels purposeful as Sofia’s parent.
The study door swings open, and Anna bursts in with Sofia, declaring that Sofia has won the competition. Anna showers her with praise, describing how she awed them both with her grace and the tenderness of her playing. She won the heart of every audience member. The Count produces champagne and toasts to the start of a grand adventure for her.
Even though Anna’s relationship with Sofia is only through the Count, Anna still treats her as a daughter in many ways as well, beaming with pride as she announces that Sofia has won the concert.
The Count, Anna, and Sofia quickly cut off their celebration when they hear a voice in the bedroom. The Count exits to the other room through his closet, where he gives Emile and Andrey such a shock that Emile drops the cake they had brought in celebration. Fortunately, Andrey (the former juggler) catches the cake in midair. They ask what he was doing in the closet.
Towles continues to weave together more loose details as the narrative starts to draw to a close, providing payoff for things he introduced early on. This is a small example of this, as Andrey is able to catch the cake because of his background as a juggler.
Seeing that it is no use keeping his room a secret, the Count leads Andrey and Emile through the closet to his study. They congratulate Sofia on her success. At that moment, Vasily enters the closet to inform the Count that the Bishop is on his way to the Count’s room. A petite gentleman in a brimmed hat has just arrived in the hotel and asked for the Count. The Bishop, who was in the lobby, offered to show the man to the Count’s room personally. Vasily suspects that they have almost arrived.
In taking Andrey and Emile into the secret study, the Count confirms how much their friendship means to him, as up until this point, only Mishka, Sofia, and Anna have entered the study. The study is a key part of his ability to feel free, and so entrusting them with that secret proves how loyal he knows them to be.
The Count tells everyone to stay silent. He goes back through the closet to his bedroom. Just as he sits at his desk to pick up a book, the Bishop knocks on the door. He enters and introduces comrade Frinovsky. Frinovsky explains that he is the director of the Red October Youth Orchestra. He watched Sofia’s performance that night, and wants to give her a position as his second pianist. The Count tells him it is a wonderful offer, but upon hearing that the orchestra is based six hundred miles away in Stalingrad, the Count states that Sofia would not be interested. Frinovsky then implies that it is not an optional offer.
When Frinovsky explains that Sofia joining the orchestra is not optional, the Count sees more of the ways the Bolshevik party has been able to completely control people’s lives, something that he has not experienced inside of the hotel. But this experience shows him how Sofia could face her own form of imprisonment inside Russian society with this newly discovered talent, as in the orchestra she would be at the whim of government control of artists.
The Bishop congratulates the Count on this development, which makes him want to strangle the man. At that moment, Anna enters through the closet, surprising the men. Anna asks if Frinovsky knows comrade Nachevko (the round-faced Minister of Culture). She says that he has taken a personal interest in Sofia. Frinovsky, not wanting to come into conflict with a Minister of Culture, tells the Count to contact him if Sofia would ever like to join the orchestra. He and the Bishop leave. Anna then reveals that she just lied to get Sofia out of the commitment.
Again, the vendetta the Bishop has against the Count comes to a head when the Bishop takes joy in the fact that Sofia would have to become a part in the orchestra. Fortunately, the round-faced fellow makes another fortunate appearance (if only in name), as Anna uses him as leverage so that Sofia will not have to join the Red October Youth Orchestra and leave the Metropol.
The celebration of Sofia’s success revives even more heartily after the Bishop’s visit. Sofia makes a toast to the Count, saying that she has no intention of ever leaving the Metropol. The group decides to continue their festivities downstairs, but the Count hangs back in his room when he sees a woman in late middle age appear from the shadows in his hall.
When Sofia states that she has no intention of leaving the Metropol, both the Count and readers begin to see how Sofia is also somewhat subject to a life of imprisonment in the Metropol by proxy, as she is tethered to the Count.
The woman introduces herself as Katerina, Mishka’s old love. The Count leads her back to his study. He assumes that something has happened to Mishka, and Katerina confirms that he died a week prior. The Count does not ask how he died. She says that they had been together again for six months, and that he spoke often of the Count. The Count says that he was a loyal friend and a fine poet. Katerina says that both Mishka and the Count were fine poets.
Katerina’s appearance confirms the long downfall of Mishka, who was unable to accept the new values of the country he loved so deeply. Though it is never revealed how he died, the incident of censorship, the exile to Siberia, and his subsequent Minus Six sentence all certainly took a great toll on his well-being.
The Count confesses that he is not a fine poet, as it was actually Mishka who had written “Where Is It Now?” The Count and Mishka had decided to publish the poem under the Count’s name because the secret police at that time (still under the government of the Tsar) would have sentenced Mishka to death, but they would not have done anything to a nobleman. The Count points out the irony: that had the poem not been published under his name, and had he not been sentenced to house arrest, he would have been shot in 1922.
The Count’s final revelation about the poem demonstrates the love that the two men had for each other, and how they helped each other survive. The Count had taken credit for the poem at first in order to spare Mishka’s life, and then in turn, the poem’s credit saved his own life when he was put on trial by the Bolsheviks as a member of the aristocracy at the beginning of the novel.
Katerina gives the Count a package containing Mishka’s project, and then she says that she should go. The Count asks where she will go, and she responds, “does it matter?” She tells the Count to remember Mishka, and leaves. The Count unwraps the project. Inside the title page is tucked a photograph of the Count and Mishka when they were young, which the Count had insisted they take.
Katerina’s response to the Count’s question demonstrates that she has also lost hope in how Russia is progressing. Mishka had described how vibrant and excited she was at the poetry congresses, but here she is disconsolate and aimless.
The Count then begins to read the book, which turns out to be a compilation of quotes from seminal texts arranged in chronological order, all of which relate to bread in some way. It begins with the Bible and moves through Shakespeare, Milton, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky. He is particularly struck by a quote from The Brothers Karamazov, in which the little boy, Ilyushechka, asks his father to crumble a crust of bread over his grave so that the sparrows will come to eat and he will not be alone in death. The Count weeps for Mishka’s death, particularly because he was the last person alive to have known the Count as a younger man.
Mishka’s project, which is simply a compilation of quotes, still becomes an act of rebellion against Bolshevik society because it encompasses so much traditional literature, using a symbol of Russian tradition. The Count’s reaction to Mishka’s death reinforces how much they were like family. Like a brother, Mishka had known the Count as a young man, and because of the death of so many of the Count’s family members, he was the only person remaining who knew him before his imprisonment.
The compilation ends with the passage from Chekhov’s letters that Mishka had cut so many years before. The Count understands why Shalamov had wanted to cut the passage, given the hardships of the 1930s, but the irony is that contrary to what Chekhov wrote, the Russians know better than anyone how good a piece of bread can be.
The Bolsheviks, weary of any words that could be used against the party, censored the passage because of the famines that Party missteps had brought about, and the fact that most Russians could not travel to a place like Germany, which Chekhov had mentioned in the passage.
When the Count closes Mishka’s book, he is lost in thought. But he is thinking of Katerina, and how a woman who had been so vibrant and with whom Mishka had been so in love could think that where she was headed did not matter.
Katerina’s question worries the Count about what society can do to a bright young woman, and her question inspires him to help Sofia escape Russia, and to escape the Metropol himself.