Book Review: "The Hotel Years" by Joseph Roth
5/5 - Observations on travels that are written beautifully...
Joseph Roth is probably best known for his book "The Radetzsky March" - which is a brilliant family saga about 20th Century Europe and its money woes, depression, problems and war divisions. But, this book entitled "The Hotel Years" is far more autobiographical, with Joseph Roth writing about his stays in various hotels all over Europe in between World War One and World War Two. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Joseph Roth meets some incredibly interesting people and observes some unusual situations, it gives rise to the independence of the day and the class differentiation with the rich being overwhelming wealthy and the poor being practically forgotten. But it also paints a picture of the time in between the wars being one of a sort of hope: the hope that another war will not come and the hope for reconciliation with others. A blessing, this book is short stories, written through diary entries, composed over travels in complete over a decade. It is beauty, it is personality and it is time and space all at once.
He details all these different experiences as something to be not only experienced but to be a part of as themselves. For example: in one story he talks about being a millionaire for an hour. Even though he is not a millionaire, he partakes in the experience in being in a rich hotel lobby filled with extravagant things, putting his feet up and observing the real millionaires in their winter coats, shirts and the heiresses drinking mochas and eating fine cakes. After this, we see him simply observe and then walk out from the hotel lobby and proclaim that he is no longer a millionaire. He was not a millionaire in the first place though, he is simply partaking in this moment of being one as if he too, is one of them who sit in lobbies and discuss important matters with foreign people.
The language of this book varies with the time, place and topic. This is something I have clung to throughout the reading experience as it gives me an excellent sense of atmosphere. Not everything is always slow and languid like the hotel lobby with the millionaires, not everything is so existential and strange and the dog and the man story - but everything has its own special design and through reading the stories on the umbrella and such, I have come to realise that this would have been the best possible way to pen this book.
When it comes to the themes, I find there is something about the theme of hope that crosses the mind of the reader. Between the hope for no more war, the hope of togetherness and the hope of picking up countries again - there seems to be a hope about bringing different people from different backgrounds back together. Not just the rich and the poor, but there is also the disabled, the misunderstood, the outcasted etc. Everyone is their own human being and nobody has been pushed into one particular category. It is truly something beautiful to witness.
In conclusion, I really hope that more people read this book because it really does display different walks of life all over Europe at one of the most turbulent times in history. From the Golden Age of the Post-War 1920s, to the Great Depression, this book seeks to teach us that practically no two people and places are entirely the same and even the hotels themselves have some sort of personality that requires remembering. It is a brilliant book with an amazing insight into something that we now call history. But it was the beginning of the modern era.