The White Hotel tells the fictional story of Lisa Erdman, the daughter of a Jewish Ukrainian grain merchant and a German Catholic mother. In her very early childhood Lisa witnesses two scenes of adulterous love-making between her mother and her uncle, the first of which also involves her mother’s twin sister. When she is five her mother and uncle are burned to death in a hotel fire. In her teens she is savagely and sexually molested by sailors in Odessa (not from the Potemkin but one of her father’s grain ships). Two years later she goes to St Petersburg to study dancing. There she has an affair with an austere revolutionary; becomes pregnant, and wills an ‘accidental’ abortion.
She gives up dancing and learns to sing – achieving not top status but nevertheless real success. She marries a German Catholic, concealing from him that she is half Jewish – he and his family are strongly anti-Semitic. She hallucinates horribly whenever they make love, they separate, and she goes