Grand Hotel

“People in a hotel” would be a literal translation of Vicki Baum’s groundbreaking novel. It’s nearly a century old now, but when she wrote it, she invented a whole new genre.

What sort of people are staying in the hotel? Where are they from – they surely have dark pasts and brilliant futures? Do they know each other? Who’s sleeping with whom (or who wants to)? How do they get the money together to stay in the fanciest establishment in town? Why are they leaving so soon? When are they coming back?

You can see the potential for intrigue, drama and romance. There were lashings of all that available in 1920s Berlin. And Vicki Baum really knows how to write about it. I picked the book up in Berlin last year on my annual pilgrimage to Dussmann on Friedrichstrasse. I’d gone in armed with a list of classic German women writers I wanted to try, and Baum was the one still in print. Lots of her books. In paperback. People are still reading them. And now, so am I. You can read Grand Hotel in English too, published by NYRB in the translation by Basil Creighton, revised by Margot Bettauer Dembo.

One of the loveliest things about Menschen im Hotel when I finally got round to reading it a year later was that it took me not only to a place a love dearly, used to live in, and couldn’t get to easily in the last twelve months for obvious reasons. It also took me to a place in a time – Berlin’s golden age. In the book, the Avus Circuit and Radio Tower are new. The rich are getting richer and the poor have something to say about it. Politics is simmering over, but mostly, people are having a lot of fun. Until tragedy strikes. But in a city of fixers, the underdog might not stay down.

Who better to portray the intrigue, drama and romance of the Grand Hotel than Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford? The MGM movie of the book won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1932. You can watch the trailer above, and YouTube will take you to a video of the last scene, too. But don’t spoil the journey – go and read it. It’s a hell of a ride.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in books, film, history
2 comments on “Grand Hotel
  1. Happy New Year – if we try.
    Yes, I’ll hunt this one out. Great many thanks.
    Best wishes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

advent Alice in Wonderland American And Other Stories Antonia Lloyd-Jones Arabic Argentina Beowulf Berlin Best Translated Book Award Bible books Brazil Brazilian Portuguese British British Library Buddhism Catalan Children's Books China Chinese Christmas Christmas Carols Contemporary Czesław Miłosz Danish Dari David Hackston Dublin Literary Award English Estonian Fantasy Farsi Fiction Finland Finland 100 Finlandia Prize Finnish Flemish Free Word Centre French George Szirtes German Greek Hebrew Herbert Lomas Herta Müller history Hungarian Iceland Idioms Illustration India international International Translation Day Irish Gaelic Italian J. R. R. Tolkien Japanese Jenny Erpenbeck Johanna Sinisalo Korean Language language learning Languages Latin Literature Lola Rogers Lord of the Rings Mabinogion Man Booker International Prize Maori Maria Turtschaninoff Moomins New Year Nobel Prize Nobel Prize for Literature Norwegian Old English Olga Tokarczuk Owen Witesman Oxford English Dictionary Penguin PEN Translation Prize Persian Philip Boehm Phoneme Media Poetry Poetry Translation Centre Polish Portuguese Pushkin Press Queer Romanian Rosa Liksom Russian Salla Simukka Second World War Short Stories Sofi Oksanen Spanish Stanisław Barańczak Suomi100 Susan Bernofsky Svetlana Alexievich Swedish Switzerland Thomas Teal Tibetan Tove Jansson transation Translation translator Translators Without Borders Valentine's Day Wales Warsaw Welsh Wisława Szymborska Witold Szabłowski Women in Translation Month words Words without Borders writing YA

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow found in translation on
%d bloggers like this: