Arriving, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, in a foreign land, being forced this way and that by a crowd of people whose words one cannot understand, is an everyday experience in the world of EasyJet and RyanAir. The fact that it is everyday doesn't detract from its nightmarish qualities, however.
In Metropole, Budai, a linguist on his way to Helsinki for a conference, encounters this modern nightmare in its most extreme form. After leaving his plane and blearily taking the airport bus he finds himself in an almost endless city where every street, every building is thronged by representatives of the entire human multitude, none of whom Budai can understand.
Uncertain of where this new city is, unable even to hear the words of his fellow beings clearly and consistently, Budai finds himself jostling and kicking his way through life in a grim, grey metropolis. He lives - for a while, at least - in a large but characterless hotel, buys his food from the machines in a cafeteria, spends his days riding the nameless city's Metro in search of an escape and his nights either drinking in the cramped and sweaty city bars or locked away in his room, puzzling away at newspapers and telephone directories written in a script he cannot understand.
Unable to communicate with those around him, Budai's only human contact is with the woman who operates the lift in his hotel, a woman whose name he cannot even hear or pronounce consistently - is she Bebe, Ebede, Dede, Pepep, Debebe, Tyetye or Epepe?
Slowly Budai finds himself carried by the human crowd into strange religious ceremonies, into penury, into carnival and even into revolution and defeat - his only thoughts those of escape or of his unnameable new love.
Metropole is a brilliant study of the everyday alienation that so often goes with life in a modern city, a place that can be brusque and harsh and in which one is sometimes forced to question whether any of us truly speak the same language. At the same time it is a prescient (this was written in 1970) study of a world in which we are divided into either individuals or mobs, with no such thing as society to stand between the two states. Nonetheless it ends on a note of hope - something we all must do if we want to press on through our life today.