Best books … chosen by Monica Ali

Monica Ali’s new novel, In the Kitchen, is set in a five-star London hotel. Below, the author of Brick Lane and Alentejo Blue  names six favorite earlier works th

Chowringhee by Sankar (Penguin, $14). A classic of Bengali literature, recently published for the first time in English. Set in a venerable Calcutta establishment, this sprawling saga examines in luminous detail the iniquities of society represented in microcosm at the hotel. Containing the action in a hotel where employees and guests are in physical proximity but a world away from each other heightens Sankar’s every observation.

Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth (Overlook, $15). Roth’s brilliant short novel has been somewhat overlooked. Fired by a sense of social injustice and homelessness, Roth makes the hotel stand for everything that is wrong in a decaying post–World War I Europe.

The Shining by Stephen King (Pocket, $15). A hotel is about as characterful as a building can get, and the Overlook Hotel is an exceptionally strong character. When the place comes, literally, to life, it seems terrifyingly natural that it should.

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Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man by Thomas Mann (Vintage, $17). The total hotel novel, portraying every facet of hotel life from lowly lift boy to royal guest. Krull’s lack of identity makes him the perfect hotel dweller, as he assumes and casts off mask after mask. Devilishly funny.

Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser (Vintage, $14). A fairy tale–like invocation of New York on the brink of massive change at the end of the 19th century. Dressler is a flâneur par excellence who seems to dream the skyscrapers of the future into existence.

Amerika by Franz Kafka (New Directions, $13). Karl Rossman’s period of employment at the Hotel Occidental forms only one chapter of his life after he is deported from Germany to the United States, but it is at the hotel that he first confronts the harsh realities of the American dream.

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