Set in Bratislava in 1989–90, following the collapse of the Czechoslovak Communist government, Rivers of Babylon centres on the change in personnel and power structure in the Hotel Ambassador. The first person we meet is Donáth, the stoker, who has operated the antiquated heating machinery for fifty years. Although ‘the meaningful world has shrunk to that of his boiler-room’, he wants to retire because ‘he’d like to have a rest’ and ‘he’s found a lady friend’. The outraged manager, who ‘was certain that after fifty years the stoker had become the legal property of the hotel’, is informed by the lawyer that it is not legal to keep someone against their will. He hopes that Donáth will at least have the grace to find a replacement.
As luck would have it, Donáth encounters Rácz, an uneducated youth from the country who has left his pig and his cow and his horse to make some money in the city so that he can go back to marry the village butcher’s daughter. The work suits Rácz well: he