A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 5, Achilles Agonistes Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Count stands at the front desk and writes a one-sentence note, slipping it into the bell boys’ desk before heading to his weekly barber appointment. There, the Count asks for a trim and a shave. As the barber shaves the Count, a bellboy appears with an urgent note from the manager asking to see the barber immediately. When the barber leaves the room in a hurry, the Count leaps up from his chair as well.
The Count starts to acquire items he needs for his escape. This particular antic has ties with the game that Sofia used to play in trying to run through the hotel while seeming like she was always in the same spot; Sofia has also taught the Count how to be adventurous, like her mother did before her.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The narrator interjects that when the Count was a young man, he prided himself on being unmoved by the clock. He enjoyed an unrushed life. While others saw appointments with bankers and catching trains as urgent, he thought cups of tea and friendly chats were much more important. But if one makes time for idle pursuits, the narrator mock-questions, how can one attend to adult matters?
The Count’s view of time in his youth is also calibrated by his wealth and class. While he could afford to focus on “idle pursuits,” as the narrator states here, the vast majority of people had to be strict with their time because they simply did not have the luxury of idleness.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The philosopher Zeno answered this conundrum in the fifth century B.C.: Achilles should be able to run the twenty-yard dash quickly. But in order to advance a yard, he must first advance eighteen inches, and to advance eighteen inches, he must advance nine, and so on. Therefore, there are an infinite number of lengths he must run, which would take an infinite amount of time. Using this argument, the man who has an appointment at noon has an infinite number of intervals between now and then for idle pursuits.
Here the narrator refers to “Zeno’s paradox,” which is an example of reducing an argument to the point of absurdity. As much as the young Count may have wanted to believe that he had infinite time (and perhaps he felt that way at first in the hotel), his life is limited, and he does not want to waste the rest of his days in the Metropol.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
However, after Sofia had been chosen for the tour, the Count becomes more acutely aware of time. He has six months until her departure, and there is much to be done in that span of time. The Count used one of the coins in the Grand Duke’s desk to buy a small tan suitcase and some toiletries as a Christmas gift for Sofia. He also hired Stepanovich to help Sofia rehearse her piece, and Marina to make her a dress. The Count had also been teaching Sofia French, and visited the hotel’s lost and found in the basement in order to find a Baedeker (a travel guide book) for Paris.
The Count starts to gather his necessities for escape: for Sofia, a small suitcase with the barest of needs, preparations for her concert, knowledge of French, and a guide book for her to navigate. He does this with the same meticulousness with which he prepared for his suicide many years prior, hoping to be in control and keep fate from intervening—though, of course, anticipating fate is a futile attempt.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
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And now, alone in the barber shop, the Count opens the glass cabinet, surveying the various soaps and oils inside. In the back of the cabinet, he finds what he is looking for: a bottle that his old barber had referred to as the Fountain of Youth. The Count also places one of the barber’s spare razors in his pocket, and then sits back down just in time for the barber to return.
The plot to steal a bottle from the barber’s cabinet is another small piece in the Count’s master plan, which will be used later to help Sofia dye the white strip in her hair.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
Back in his room, the Count puts the bottle in the back of his desk. Using the razor, he takes the Paris travel book and cuts out a detailed map of the eighth arrondissement. He carefully draws a line on the map with a red pen. Setting that aside, he opens the copy of Montaigne’s Essays once more. As the twice-tolling clock chimes noon, he takes the razor and begins removing two hundred of its central pages.
Finally (and humorously), the Count’s extreme distaste for the Montaigne results in its destruction. However, it, too, serves its own fated purpose in the Count’s plan, as he will use it as a means of smuggling money undetected with Sofia.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon