I love it when you are reading something good and come to a part that just clicks. It resonates with something in your life now or something you, too, have experienced. Isn't this one of the reasons we all love reading so much? After a little hiatus, I have once again picked up Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel, which was written in 1929 and was my June NYRB subscription book. I am trying to go back and work my way forward again with my NYRBs. I've finished reading Teffi's Memories (and do hope to catch up on writing about it and some of my other recent finishes). The Walser (this month's book) is perfectly dippable, so I try and read one or two (or even three) of the short works each day while picking up those other books I've missed. I hadn't quite engaged enough with Grand Hotel so it was easy to set it down. It is good, but it is a story that calls for more steady attention, which I finally gave it and now feel a good rhythm going. It is one of my main reads each day and this passage caught my interest in particular.
This is a bit from a conversation between two guests at Berlin's Grand Hotel. The story moves about from person to person giving glimpses into their lives, their hopes and desires and disappointments. I can see them all and feel what they feel. Such a cast of curiosities. So, here is Dr. Otternschlag, a WWI veteran, and Herr Kringelein a bullied and beat down clerk who discovers he is ill but hoping to convince those around him and maybe most of all himself that his life is filled with dignity still.
"He knew little of life, but now he wanted to get to know it. He wanted to know life as it really was. That was why he was here. 'But,' he went on, 'where is real life? I have not come on it yet. I have been to a casino, and here I am sitting in the most expensive hotel, but all the time I know it isn't the real thing. All the time I have a suspicion that real, genuine actual life is going on somewhere else and is something quite different. When you don't belong to it it's not all so easy to get into it, if you see what I mean?'"
"'Yes, but what's your notion of life?' replied Doctor Otternschlag. 'Does life even exist as you imagine it? The real thing is always going on somewhere else. When you're young you think it will come later. Later on you think it was earlier. When you are here, you think it is there--in India, in America, on Popocatepetl or somewhere. But when you get there, you find that life has doubled back and is quietly waiting here, here in the very place you ran away from. It is the same with life as it is with the butterfly collector and the swallowtail. As you see it flying away, it is wonderful. But as soon as it is caught, the colors are gone and the wings bashed'."
Written in 1929 by a German woman and dropped into the mouth of a middle age doctor in Weimar Germany. And now here I am thinking much the same thing. What will happen to these characters? Will they find what life really is? I'm looking, too.
I'll be reading on this weekend. I hope you find some happy surprises in your reading this weekend, too.