New York Review Books, 2016 edition of 1930 translation of 1929 German original
A classic of the time and place genre, Grand Hotel takes the space of a few days and follows a cast of exquisite characters as they live and work in a top-tier hotel in pre-Depression Berlin. There are a few members of the hotel staff singled out for exposure, as well as a once-famous ballerina who no longer draws the crowds she once did, a wounded doctor who more or less spends his days sitting in a chair and waiting on letters which never arrive, an aristocrat dashing here and there around town, the head of a textile firm in town trying to complete a merger with a company that no longer wants to merge, and a provincial factory worker who has pulled together his life’s resources for one final and awkward splurge before his impending death from an incurable stomach disease. It’s not only a sampling of the clientele, but a bit of a cross section of German society in the midst of the Weimar era.
The beauty of this book lies not so much in it’s choice of characters or location, but in how they are put together. From a modern perspective, several of the situations detailed come across as quaint, but at the time they were very much cutting edge and carry that element into the book. Putting that aside, however, the flow of the book makes it very enjoyable to read. At times it begins to feel like the pace is picking up toward a logical peak, only for the direction to shift and leave the reader crashing down from the unachieved crest into a swirling pool of pages from which another wave soon rises, while at other times there is only a momentary riffle on the smooth surface. After several such cycles the book climaxes in a very unexpected manner.