Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy - excerpt

Metropole, first published in English in 2008, (originally published as Epepe in Hungarian in 1970) is gripping throughout.

Budai, an accomplished linguist, ends up in a country whose language is utterly for foreign to him. He cannot find his way home. The only person he develops a relationship with is the girl running the hotel elevator:

Budai pointed to himself and repeated his name a few times then pointed to her questioningly. She gave another laugh and answered with a two-syllable word. He didn't quite catch it, and asked again.

'Pepe? Tchetche?'

Her pronunciation was so odd it might have been Bebe, Veve, Gege, Dede or anything else: each time she said it, it sounded different, sometimes it even sounded as if it had three syllables - Edede or Bebebe, though this might have been merely a pet name or an inflected version of her proper name. There was a constant buzzing by this time, hordes of people must have been waiting on the floors below. Her break over, she stubbed out her cigarette and Budai entered the lift with her. As they descended it filled up with passengers again wedging themselves between him and her so they could not see each other at all. Only once they had reached the ninth floor could their eyes meet and exchange a complicit glance of farewell