‘The Hotel Years,’ by Joseph Roth


George Prochnik in the NYT Book review:

Reading the 64 essays by Joseph Roth anthologized in “The Hotel Years” — dazzling, elegiac, mordant and harrowingly oracular by turn — is like roaming through the Grand Budapest Hotel and discovering that it’s merged with the Overlook, the establishment from “The Shining.” There are so many fantastic scenes, indelible characters and exquisite lines to marvel at. Yet the cumulative vision is one of ­horror.

The articles span Roth’s 20 productive years: 1919-39, the interwar period during which Europe tried to catch its breath, but ended up mostly just panting with cramps and shut eyes, pretending the nightmare was past. Born in 1894, in Brody, a city in present-day Ukraine, then at the eastern edge of the Austro-­Hungarian Empire, Roth never really surrendered his allegiance to the Hapsburg monarchy, precisely because the territory it administered was so ethnically and religiously heterogeneous that race-based strains of patriotic identification were neutralized — or at least diluted for a spell.

He had a passion for hotels, which he considered remnant microcosms of that multiethnic ideal savaged by the Great War. In an essay titled “Arrival in the Hotel,” Roth proudly enumerates the nationalities represented at one establishment: “The waiter is from Upper Austria. The porter is a Frenchman from Provence. The receptionist is from Normandy. The headwaiter is Bavarian. The chambermaid is Swiss. The valet is Dutch. The manager is Levantine; and for years I’ve suspected the cook of being Czech.” Its guests, who included “Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists,” found themselves in the hotel “slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land,” seemingly restored by these precincts to “what they should always be: children of the world.”

More here.