Hotel Amalfi


Hotell Amalfi

Hotel Amalfi (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Tuum, 2011, pp. 163

Rein Raud (b.1961) is the most erudite Estonian scholar of Japan and an author who writes convincingly in any genre. His new book Hotel Amalfi is, similarly to his previous one (Vend, 2008), a book of extremely film-like character. This is an elegantly exact and balanced, exciting story about the creative work and dreams of the head of an interior design firm, the most laconic summary of whom may be that he “designs human souls and castles in the air”.

The story opens with a mysterious event: the main character, called Roland, an interior designer, finds a slip of paper in his shoe with a message that promises unexpected events. Soon, two strangers appear who offer him an extremely inspiring commission to design a perfect hotel where all guests, from a tourist who seeks affordable comfort to a CEO who is accustomed to luxury and refinement, will feel absolutely comfortable and at home, as if the place was created for them. The commissioner demands that only Roland and none of his subordinates be the designer, and Roland accepts the fantastic, challenging commission. He borrows the name for his hotel from the small seaside town of Amalfi in the Italian province of Salerno, which is, earlier in the book, briefly related to some events in his private life. Having failed with his initial design and realising that this extraordinary interior design has to use plays of light, the protagonist starts to see the still incomplete interiors in his dreams. And his life lived in this dream space – separate from the real life, but with the same (hopeful) characters who all have the same dream on the same night – takes a direction of its own, “But there, in that hotel, I was as free as I knew how to be and I could do everything that I ever wanted to do.”

In this dream hotel, Roland is naked and invisible to all, until a person arrives who is able to see him. “Although outside this hotel everyone can see my physical body, hear me talking and see me moving, none of them can see my real self, the Roland who is able to create a world by using only his spiritual strength, to create such a world where, right now, we two can move mountains, erect cities and melt the ice. Nobody sees it. Only you.” The one who can see him is, naturally, a woman – Regina – who has both business and emotional private relations with Roland in real life. Thanks to her, Roland learns to experience new feelings, to see what is truly important and, having corrected the mistakes in some of her house designs, he finally starts to understand perfection, “... no perfection is complete if it does not hide a discord”. These two stories, one in the real world and the other in dreams (and the latter may even be more intriguing than the former), progress on their parallel paths towards a fatal point
where the dream life proves to be more vigorous than the real life. The interior designer has finally realised that, although routine work can be fatal to a creative soul, absolute
freedom can be as fatal. Ultimately, it is the reader who has to decide whether Hotel Amalfi is a story of selfdiscovery or self-loss.

Text by Brita Melts

First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine No 2/2012

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