Book V 

Summary: Chapter 11: The Gentleman’s Canal

Boris gives Theo a plane ticket to Amsterdam, where they will meet Gyuri. Before departing, Theo stops at home to get cash, his passport, and some personal items. He leaves gifts for Pippa, including an expensive antique diamond necklace. In Amsterdam, Theo goes to his hotel. He meets Gyuri and Boris at a bar, where Boris tells him what to expect. They are going to steal the painting back, paying cash for half of it, from a man named Sascha who stole it from Horst. They must wait to find out when and where. Worried about such a risky plan, Theo suggests that they call the police instead, but Boris harshly shuts him up. Later, at the hotel, Boris wakes Theo and tells him to get ready to go. Boris assembles a pistol, insisting that it’s just for show. Gyuri drives them to a parking garage outside the city, where they leave their passports in the car, meet a man named Victor, and drive back to the café where they are supposed to meet three men for the painting.

The men meet in a back room, but the third man does not show. Realizing their advantage, Victor, Boris, and Gyuri boldly pull guns on the two men, grab the painting, and flee. Theo notices an Asian man in the kitchen who runs away. Gyuri says that he saw a shotgun in the kitchen. Theo unwraps the painting, happy and overwhelmed by its enduring beauty. The men are elated at their success and agree to meet in a restaurant to celebrate. As they get into their car, two men suddenly wish them “Merry Christmas,” one of whom is the Asian man who fled the restaurant. Boris recognizes one of the men as Martin, who met Horst in a mental hospital. Confusion and chaos ensue during which Theo grabs a gun and shoots Martin in the face, killing him. But the Asian man gets away with the painting. Boris is shot in the arm but able to drive back into the city.

Boris praises Theo for saving their lives and says the Asian man is Sascha’s boyfriend. He wonders if Horst knew about their plan all along. When they get caught in construction, Boris sends Theo back to his hotel on foot. Cold, bloodied, and wet, Theo winds his way to the hotel, panicking when the desk clerk must let him in. In his room, he frantically tries to scrub the blood from his clothing and showers obsessively. Theo experiences intense emotions from the night’s violence that echo the explosion years ago. In the morning, a staff person comes for his laundry. Theo gives it to her and then panics, thinking he’s made a terrible mistake. He takes some of the drugs that were still in his pocket and sleeps for hours. When he wakes, his clothes are returned, and he is sick and feverish. He dreams about Andy and hallucinates that the hotel room is the cabin of ship, and he feels ashamed and worried that he has murdered someone. 

Analysis: Chapter 11

This chapter is a wild ride into, out of, and through Amsterdam with Boris, Gyuri, Victor, and Theo. They experience a roller coaster of events and emotions: first, a false confidence; then premature jubilance; followed by shock; then death and pain; and ending with horror, confusion, and shame. The events in this chapter contain both a victorious celebration and a humbling defeat. Theo’s trepidation about carrying a gun turns into terror when he picks up the gun and kills Martin. His clothing and skin bloodstained, Theo washes and washes, trying to rid himself of the guilt of having murdered a man. The chapter is a page-turner, and much of it is chaotic, a crime caper that goes horribly wrong. The ending is a cliff-hanger with readers, along with Theo, left to wonder if Boris is alive or dead.

Back in Chapter 6, when Theo leaves Las Vegas suddenly after Larry’s death, Theo confesses that he’s crossing a line, the line between illicit and criminal, when he chooses to steal money and drugs from Xandra and leave town. By Chapter 11, Theo has committed so many crimes that his early theft seems petty. He’s committed fraud by selling fake antiques. He’s forged bills of sale. He’s lied. He’s cheated. He’s nearly killed himself with hard drugs. However, up until this point in the novel, Theo has never physically hurt anyone. Here, however, he crosses that line and commits murder. Immediately after the crime, Theo once again loses the painting, something akin to a punishment from the universe. Theo recognizes that he’s no better than his father, and this reality sickens him, literally and figuratively. Psychologically, Theo’s hit bottom. The plot of The Goldfinch has circled back around, and readers find that the story has returned to the hotel room in Amsterdam, the setting in the beginning of Chapter 1.

Here, the theme of how appearances can foil reality reappears. At first, the heist seems easy. It goes very well. No one gets hurt, and they retrieve the painting without paying a cent. The men laugh and celebrate. However, everything quickly falls apart. The violence that ensues mirrors the violence of Chapter 1, and Theo reexperiences the trauma of the explosion fourteen years before. He also reexperiences another profound physical and psychic confusion that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

The contrast between Boris and Theo is stark in this chapter, and Boris is clearly the boss. When Theo suggests they call the art police and turn the painting in, Boris scoffs and then harshly scolds him for such an outrageous idea, a suggestion that will actually inspire Boris later. Boris is all confidence. Theo is all worries. Boris trusts fate. Theo mistrusts it completely. Boris is not afraid. Theo is always afraid. Theo sees the world in black and white, right and wrong, but Boris does not see those sharp lines. The two friends speak two different languages, literally and figuratively. Although they may be brothers in spirit, they are opposite characters as they act and react in this chapter.