I received a review copy of this title from the New York Review of Books. The original book was published in 1929 in German and this English version has been translated by Basil Creighton.
The Grand Hotel is the place to stay for anyone who wishes to be surrounded by luxury and high society in 1920’s Berlin. The guests that have all checked into the hotel in March of 1929 are an interesting mix of misfits whose stories all collide in a cleverly intertwined plot.
The first character to whom we are introduced is Dr. Otternschlag. He sits for hours each day reading the paper and watching people go in and out of the revolving doors of the hotel. He asks the porter several times if a letter has come for him and it is sad that no letters ever arrive for this lonely man. He suffered a horrible injury during World War I which has left his face horribly scared. He is utterly lonely, sad and has no zest for life. He is the absolute opposite of Baron Gaigern who is also a guest at the hotel.
The Baron wears the finest clothes, has impeccable manners, is charming and extremely handsome. He enjoys life to its fullest with gambling, fast cars, and lots of women. But little does everyone know that the Baron is actually a petty thief and has no money other than that which he steals from his unsuspecting victims. He latest mark is an aging ballerina named Grusinskaya whose famous string of pearls are said to be worth over 500,000 marks. He has been secretly following the dancer around so that he can best ascertain how to get his hands on those pearls without being caught. His plan for the heist is one of the most amusing and thrilling parts of the plot. In the course of carrying out his carefully laid out plan, the unexpected happens to the normally cool and collected Baron–he falls in love with the woman who is supposed to be his victim.
The next person to check into the Grand Hotel is Otto Kringelein who is a lowly and badly paid clerk from a small town. He is very sick and has only been given a few weeks to live so he gathers up all of his life savings, leaves his miserable wife and books a room at the hotel where he intends to have an exciting adventure before he passes away. When his boss, Mr. Preysing, also checks into the hotel, he won’t let this angry and horrible bully spoil his fun. Kringelein finds a companion in the doctor for a while and even goes to the ballet with him. But it is not until Kringelein meets up with the Baron that he really starts to feel alive. The adventures that the Baron takes this provincial and naïve man on, which include boxing, gambling and flying, are absolutely hilarious.
The final adventure that Kringelein takes is of his own making as he comes to the aid of a beautiful young woman. The story ends well for Kringelein even though it is still likely that he doesn’t have long to live. He, like many others, checked into the Grand Hotel, as a solitary misfit. But his exploits with the other guests turn him into a more worldly and confidant man who yearns to experience all that life has to offer. The New York Review of Books has managed to reissue another fantastic classic that I devoured in just a few sittings. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
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