Thursday, September 10, 2020

Grand Hotel: Vicki Baum

This was an easy book to read and to love, but not easy for me to review. There is so much going on, and so many sad people coming together over a few days and nights at the Grand Hotel in Berlin. I don't think one of the characters is really happy, although some of them find some happy moments during their stay, and all of them are in some way changed by the experience.

Here are our characters:

  • Grusinskaya, the aging dancer who still has a lovely body but is losing confidence in herself.
  • Baron Gaigern, debonair, likable, handsome, loves to dance and gamble, but beneath it all, a thief.
  • Two men from the Saxonia Cotton Company in Fredersdorf. Preysing is the Generaldirektor of the company; Kringelein is his minion, a clerk. Kringelein has come to Berlin after finding out he has a short time to live. He has brought all his money and plans to live it up for once.
  • Doktor Otternschlag, a man damaged by World War I, who is a longterm resident of the hotel.
  • Flämmchen, a typist, who aspires to be an actress and is prepared to give her body away to get ahead.
  • In the background of all of this, we follow the hall porter, Senf, whose wife is in the hospital having a baby. I was quite worried about that baby all the way through the story.

As I read the book, I found myself focusing on Grusinskaya and the Baron, but really all of the people visiting the hotel are equally interesting and given quite a bit of background. There isn't really a main plot and subplots, they all rotate around each other and interact. I was expecting a more surface look at the characters and their interactions, but there was depth to each character's story.

So, clearly, I enjoyed this book. It was very thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. It provides a good picture of Germany in the late 1920s, between the two wars. The characters are very well drawn. The story is pretty dark at times, yet it did not drag me down. 

The film from 1932 is a good adaptation of the story, but I am glad I read the book first. As usual, the book provides more insight into the characters. Some of the actors were: John Barrymore as the Baron, Lionel Barrymore as Kringelein, Greta Garbo as Grusinskaya, Joan Crawford as Flämmchen, and Wallace Beery as Preysing. The sets for the hotel lobby are gorgeous.

Other resources:

At Clothes in Books and His Futile Preoccupations.


Publisher:  New York Review Books, 2016 (orig. pub. 1929)
Translated from the German by Basil Creighton with revisions by Margot Bettauer Dembo
Length:     270 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     Berlin, Germany
Genre:      Fiction, Classics
Source:     I purchased my copy, 2018.



Cath said...

Years ago I wouldn't have been attracted to this kind of book, perhaps an interest in character focussed books comes with age but this does sound fascinating. I will look into it as I've not heard of it.

Jerry House said...

I remember the 1989 Wright and Forrest musical during its Boston try-out. Wright and Forrest were also trying out THE ANASTASIA GAME at the same time in nearby Lowell, Mass. My wife and I were house managers of the Lowell theater and have memories of the two going back and forth over the twenty-five miles that separated the two shows, tweaking both shows, adding songs to GRAND HOTEL, and coddling actors. GRAND HOTEL won five Tony Awards and was the first musical in four years to top 1000 shows on Broadway. THE ANASTASIA GAME, not so much.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have always meant to read this after seeing the movie. Perhaps now I will.

Margot Kinberg said...

It takes a lot of talent for an author to create a story like that, that's sad but at the same time enjoyable. And a hotel is a practically ideal place to bring a group of characters together like that, and to evoke a place and time. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy.

Peggy Arthurs said...

Hello Tracy! This sounds wonderful. I think I have it in digital form. I’m off to go look. I’m so p,eased I was able to sign in and comment.

TracyK said...

Cath, I am finding that I am attracted to more general fiction than in the past and usually it is fiction that focuses on characters. In this case, the focus on Germany and the setting in a hotel was also interesting.

TracyK said...

Jerry, that is very interesting information about the musical. I did not know there was one. That sounds like a fun (but demanding?) job. Thanks for sharing that.

TracyK said...

Patti, I think you would like this book. The film is pretty close to the story in the book, so if you liked that, the book should appeal too.

TracyK said...

Margot, having read this I am interested in finding more similar types of books. I also enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow, set in a large hotel. The two are not that similar, but I liked the focus on the setting of the hotel and the community within the hotel.

TracyK said...

Peggy, how nice to hear from you again. If you have access to a copy, I think you would like this book. I too am glad you are able to comment here

Rick Robinson said...

just stay safe.

neer said...

Long been on my wishlist as I absolutely love stories set in hotels. Perhaps I'll read it for this year's German Literature Month.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Rick, I hope you are staying safe too and conditions near you improve. Our only problem seems to be air quality.

TracyK said...

Very good idea, Neeru. I read this for my Classics list but it will also serve for my European Reading Challenge.

Mathew Paust said...

I move my lips and tongue when I read, Tracy--can't help myself--and I'm afraid I might bite off the end of my tongue trying to pronounce some of these names. Otherwise the book does sound intriguing.

Nice to be back in the FFB harness, ain't it! :)

TracyK said...

I agree, Mathew, about FFB.

I have a problem with the names too, I guess I must create some sort of shorthand in my mind while reading. German military titles are horrendous (for me) and I have a World War II series that drives me crazy when reading it. But this was definitely worth reading.

Clothes in Books said...

As you know (thanks for the shoutout) I liked this one very much. It wasn't what I was expecting - I thought it would be more sprawling and saga-like, with more characters and more humour. But none the worse for being tighter, and very European. I think I saw the film many years ago, I remember very little, and your post has reminded me that I meant to watch it again after reading the book, and may do so now.

TracyK said...

Moira, this wasn't what I expected and I liked it a lot. I will reread it, I hope. The film is worth watching. For years I had confused that film with Dinner at Eight, not sure why.