Hrabal, Bohumil (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Bohumil Hrabal 1914-1997
Czech novelist, short-story writer, autobiographer, essayist, and poet.
The following entry provides criticism on Hrabal's works from 1989 through 2000. For criticism prior to 1989, see CLC, Volumes 13 and 67.
Hrabal was one of his country's most prominent late-twentieth-century writers. He is known for his comic, surrealistic, and idiosyncratic tales about ordinary people: poor workers, nonconformists, and failures. His most well-known work—Ostře sledované vlaky (1965; Closely Watched Trains)—is considered his most conventional. Although his writings were banned by authorities for a number of years, he exerted an important influence on the development of prose literature in Czechoslovakia.
Hrabal was born on March 28, 1914, in Brno-Židenice, Moravia, and was raised in a small town on the banks of the Elbe river. He travelled with his stepfather, a brewery agent, and learned to appreciate the vernacular and folkways of the common people, whom he observed and later described in his fiction. He studied law at Charles University in Prague for four years until, in 1939, Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia temporarily closed its universities. During the next several years, Hrabal worked as a lawyer's clerk, a maltster, and a railway worker, and wrote whimsical poetry in his spare time. After the war, Hrabal returned to the university, earning a law degree in 1946. Possibly due to the upheaval caused by Czechoslovakia's change to a communist government in the late 1940s, he didn't practice law, instead becoming a traveling salesman, a factory worker, and then a stagehand at a theater in Prague. He continued to write, transitioning from poetry to prose, and tried to get published. He experienced difficulties because, in this era of frequent censorship, publishers were sometimes reluctant to accept Hrabal's unconventional style, fearing political trouble. In 1969, after the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia in response to the Prague Spring uprising, Hrabal's writings were banned by authorities. He circulated some of his works through an underground network known as samizdat. Following an interview in an official communist newspaper in 1975 in which he remained neutral on the subject of the communist regime, Hrabal became one of the few writers able to publish in his native country during the politically repressive late 1970s and early '80s. Still, until the fall of the Communist Party in 1989, a great deal of his work was expurgated to please government authorities. On February 3, 1997, Hrabal died, falling from a fifth-floor hospital window.
Walking a fine line between artistic freedom and government strictures, Hrabal hinted at political criticism without overtly defying the existing order. His works generally dwell on the individual's response to the world and are frequently surrealistic and plotless. Hrabal makes frequent use of long dialogues and monologues and shifts in points of view which suggest tenuous perceptions of reality. Hrabal began writing in the 1930s, and tried to publish his first book—the poetry collection Ztracená ulička—in 1948, but due to political upheavals in Czechoslovakia, this work was not published until 1991. His first short story collection, Perlička na dně, appeared in 1963. Closely Watched Trains, published two years later, became one of Hrabal's best-known novels, partly because of its Academy Award-winning 1966 film adaptation. This story concerns a young guard in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who loses his life in an attempt to blow up a train. In 1969, Hrabal's works were banned from publication. Some of his most important novels, including Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (1971; I Served the King of England) and Příliš hlučná samota (1977; Too Loud a Solitude,) were first circulated during this time via samizdat. The former novel explores the ways ordinary people attempt to cope with a chaotic world. The latter is an allegory about the power of literature as a civilizing force. Its protagonist, who rescues banned literary works from a government paper recycling center, becomes suicidal when he is moved to a new workplace. Hrabal's Automat Svět (1966; The Death of Mr. Baltisberger) is an experimental collection of short stories based on tales heard in taverns in Prague. In Postřižiny (1974; Cutting It Short), Hrabal creates an allegory based on the changes in Eastern Europe after World War I. In 1986 Hrabal produced several volumes of memoirs: Svatby v domě, Vita Nuova, and Proluky. In these works he reviews portions of his own life and comments extensively on the Czechs' relations with the Germans, whom he blames for the eventual onset of Russian despotism in Central and Eastern Europe. Hrabal's complete works were collected in the multi-volume Sebrané spisy Bohumila Hrabala, published between 1991 and 1997.
Hrabal's ambivalent attitude toward the communist authorities hurt his reputation both in government circles and with political reformers, the latter of whom were disappointed that he did not join their cause as had other Czech literati such as Václav Havel. The difficulty Hrabal had in getting published at all during the political vicissitudes in Czechoslovakia prevented international critics from seeing most of his works until the mid-1970s. Since 1989, some of his works have became available in English translation. His techniques are often compared to those of James Joyce or William Faulkner, and he has been praised for his attention to detail and for chronicling the idiosyncrasies of everyday people in his homeland. Although a number of critics were put off by Hrabal's characteristic rambling, anecdotal, and allegorical style, others felt that he correctly captured the realities of life in a repressive country. A number of important literary prizes and two critical biographies of Hrabal published in 1993 and 2000 have also brought him more acclaim in the Western literary world.
Perlička na dně (short stories) 1963
Taneční hodiny pro starší a pokročilé [Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age] (novel) 1964
Ostře sledované vlaky [A Close Watch on the Trains; Closely Watched Trains] (novel) 1965
Automat svět [The Death of Mr. Baltisberger] (short stories) 1966
Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále [I Served the King of England] (novel) 1971
Městečko, kde se zastavil čas [The Little Town Where Time Stood Still] (novella) 1974
Postřižiny [Cutting It Short] (novella) 1974
Příliš hlučná samota [Too Loud a Solitude] (novel) 1977
Proluky (memoir) 1986
Svatby v domě (memoir) 1986
Vita nuova (memoir) 1986
Kdo jsem (autobiography) 1989
Listopadový uragán (sketch) 1990
Ztracená ulička (poetry) 1991
Sebrané spisy Bohumila Hrabala. 19 vols. (poetry, short stories, novels, memoirs, and autobiography) 1991-97
Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka (fictional memoir) 1998
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SOURCE: King, Francis. “In and Out of the Lap of Luxury.” Spectator 262, no. 8393 (20 May 1989): 35.
[In the following review, King examines the plot of I Served the King of England, finding that “everything is extravagantly magnified” rather than realistic.]
At first the hero and narrator of this Czech novel [I Served The King of England] seems to be the cousin-german of the hero and narrator of Thomas Mann's last full-length novel, Felix Krull the Confidence Trickster. But if Mann's Krull is a wolf, relentlessly preying on all those with whom he comes into contact, Hrabal's Ditie is a fox, no less relentlessly ingratiating himself. Krull is characterised, from his earliest years, by a sturdy cynicism; Ditie retains, into middle age, a fragile innocence. The result is that Krull is essentially detestable, Ditie essentially likeable.
Like Krull, Ditie starts work in a hotel. So tiny that the rest of the staff make fun of him, he nonetheless manages, through the twin arts of serving and seduction, to make a way for himself. We are in Prague before the war, and through the resplendent hotels in which Ditie works, so unlike the run-down, utilitarian hotels of Prague today, pass a crowd of rich, powerful men and their sumptuous women, many of them prostitutes. Ditie learns how to foresee the demands, however eccentric or improbable, of these guests, and how to...
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SOURCE: Day, Barbara. “Small War in Absurdistan.” Spectator 263, no. 8407 (26 August 1989): 28.
[In the following essay, Day reports on the cultural battles being fought on the Czech stage by numerous “silenced” authors, including—through a stage production of I Served the King of England—Hrabal.]
‘Absurdistan’ is the name many Czechs give to their own country today. For years it has been commonplace to say that the Theatre of the Absurd we know in the West is in Eastern Europe a depiction of everyday life; in Prague nowadays, a fresh layer of dramatic irony is unfolded at every première.
In early spring, the Czech authorities sentenced to prison their most famous playwright, Václav Havel, for the crime of laying flowers on a memorial. Then, for the first time for 20 years, a small but stubborn nucleus of theatre performers was joined by two to three thousand colleagues—actors, directors, stage managers—who were prepared to risk their careers by signing a petition on Havel's behalf. Leading the appeal were actors from Havel's former company, the Theatre on the Balustrade; since then, it is said, they have not been allowed to appear on radio or television, and their work cannot be reviewed in the press.
If this rumour is true, then reviews of one of the most powerful productions to be seen in Prague will be delayed. Jan Grossman's production...
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SOURCE: Banville, John. “Laughter in the Dark.” New York Review of Books 38, no. 14 (14 February 1991): 14-6.
[In the following excerpt from a review of Too Loud a Solitude, Tadeusz Konwicki's New World Avenue and Vicinity, and Péter Esterházy's Helping Verbs of the Heart, Banville discusses the new position of writers in Eastern Europe and praises Hrabal's novel as an allegory of the process of writing.]
Woe betide the writer who finds himself cast as a hero. In the West, where even artists do not take art seriously, we look upon the “dissident” as somehow more authentic than we could ever hope to be, with our word processors and benevolent editors and Guggenheim Foundations. The dissident, of course, is always someone who dissents elsewhere, “over there,” behind the Curtain or the Wall or under Table Mountain. Compared to them, to these brave ones, our rebels seem like noisy children drumming their fists and refusing to be good. How can we be serious, we ask, how can we be truly grown-up, without the burden of political oppression, without a great cause to which we might lend our singing voices? So it is that at times when it was fashionable to be of the soft left, for instance in the Thirties and the Sixties, we paid fealty to figures such as Solzhenitsyn—a brave, perhaps even a great man, but no lover of liberal causes.
And rarely do we...
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SOURCE: Bradbrook, B. R. Review of Listopadový uragán and The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, by Bohumil Hrabal. World Literature Today 65, no. 2 (spring 1991): 324-25.
[In the following review, Bradbrook comments favorably on Listopadový uragán—Hrabal's account of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia—and praises Hrabal's short story collection The Death of Mr. Baltisberger for rejuvenating the beer-house genre.]
Hurricanes are rare in Central Europe, but political events do sweep the region like those merciless storms. Having in mind the “December hurricane,” an 1897 Jewish pogrom in Prague, Bohumil Hrabal uses the title November Hurricane for his latest publication [Listopadový uragán], written during and referring to the events of 1989 in his native Czecho-Slovakia. It was on 17 November of that year when a “hurricane” in the form—paradoxically enough—of the “velvet revolution” caused the communist regime to crumble, but the change of political climate had already been felt earlier. Hrabal's collection of ten pieces records the atmosphere very subtly.
The opening selection, “The Magic Flute,” sets the tone with a kind of memoir in which the author tries to find his soul, his place as both a writer and a human being, in the changing society. In his self-examination he sounds apologetic in justifying his refusal...
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SOURCE: Berens, Emily. “Books Do Furnish a Life.” Spectator 266. no. 8491 (6 April 1991): 34.
[In the following review, Berens provides a positive assessment of Too Loud a Solitude, noting its sophisticated and thought-provoking narrative.]
Short, sharp and eccentric, this novel [Too Loud a Solitude], written as a monologue, reconfirms Bohumil Hrabal's reputation. The hapless and slightly ludicrous Hant'a has spent 35 years in a dingy Prague basement compacting paper, as we are told at the start of every chapter. He has, by his own admission, unwittingly absorbed the literature that he has saved from the grasp of his hydraulic press. Books are rescued, savoured and stored in his attic where he goes to relish a beautiful sentence, sipping it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in him like alcohol.
The prose darts chaotically from Hant'a's past memories to his romantic hopes and escapist dreams. Like Walter Mitty and J. Alfred Prufrock, Hant'a is a ridiculous and antisocial character obsessed by his imaginary self-importance. Prone to believing that the classics of philosophy and literature were written for his benefit alone, Hant'a envelops himself in his world of books. Whether it is among the philosophers or the saints, through these reveries Hant'a escapes his own banal existence. He becomes so absorbed that the reader is often unsure whether his musings are...
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SOURCE: Vamos, Miklos. “Our Czech Uncle.” Nation 257, no. 14 (1 November 1993): 508-10.
[In the following review of The Little Town Where Time Stood Still and Cutting It Short, Vamos calls attention to Hrabal's joyous portrayal of everyday Czech life.]
If you want to be happy for a couple of hours, read the novels of Bohumil Hrabal. Novels? I'd better say fairy tales, realistic fairy tales that keep you smiling. In his novellas The Little Town Where Time Stood Still and Cutting It Short (the first title a sequel to the second), you actually get two fairy tales for the price of one—Hrabal promises us a good day.
I think most readers would agree that the history of twentieth-century literature is basically a story of unhappiness. Nearly every masterpiece is an account of the unbearable heaviness of being. Modern literature reminds me of old fathers who talk about their youth to their sons. Instead of happy stories, we get speeches about conflicts, hard work and insurmountable problems. The nice stories are usually told by old uncles who are not interested in our education—they just want to entertain.
In this century, the most influential “father writer” of Eastern European literature has been Franz Kafka. He is well known in Europe and America for his preoccupation with alienation, sorrow and loneliness—three gloomy themes that...
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SOURCE: Simon, Linda. “Remembrance of Things Past.” World & I 8, no. 12 (December 1993): 327-30.
[In the following review of Cutting It Short and The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, Simon emphasizes Hrabal's evocation of his fond memories of Czechoslovakia's past.]
Bohumil Hrabal, one of Czechoslovakia's most acclaimed writers, is perhaps best known to American readers as the author of Closely Watched Trains, a novel that, in 1967, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. More political in theme than many of Hrabal's other works of fiction, the story concerns a young man in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who is killed when he attempts to blow up a German ammunition train. In Hrabal's other tales, although he alludes to political events in Czechoslovakia, he is more interested in exploring the ways in which ordinary people perceive reality and create their own imaginary worlds.
Not until 1989 was Hrabal's fiction available in English translation: first If I Served the King of England, a lighthearted tale of the adventures of a busboy who eventually becomes a successful hotel owner, then Too Loud a Solitude, the fictional memoir of a trash collector who rescues books from destruction. In both works, serious themes underlie humorous, sometimes absurd, episodes in the lives of irrepressible characters. Hrabal's language is earthy and...
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SOURCE: Hrabik-Samal, Mary. “Case Study in the Problem of Czech-English Translation with Special Reference to the Works of Bohumil Hrabal.” In Varieties of Czech: Studies in Czech Sociolinguistics, edited by Eva Eckert, pp. 137-42. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993.
[In the following essay, Hrabik-Samal examines the difficulties of sensitively translating works such as Hrabal's from Czech into English.]
“Translating is a form of masochism,” growled my usually mild and understanding spouse as an answer to my question, how to say kulový filek in English. This was the fourth or fifth time that I interrupted his watching of an exciting hockey game to consult him on some finer point of vocabulary or euphony. I was in the throes of translating an excerpt from Bohumil Hrabal's Kdo jsem into the King's English. “It is not,” I sputtered, “It is …”
As I tried to finish sentence, I was transported backwards in time to the third row, second seat of Sister Mary's English class at Notre Dame Academy. So inseparately wedded are good English and Sister Mary in my linguistic consciousness that I cannot put pen to paper without this nun peering over my shoulder. “Thou shall not commit bad grammar, style and diction” was the Eleventh Commandment in her classroom. Hell's fire held no greater terror for me and my classmates than Sister Mary's merciless command, “Rewrite!” We...
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SOURCE: Miron, Susan. “Central and East European Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 61 (fall 1994): 643-50.
[In the following excerpt from a review of several Central and Eastern European authors' works, Miron lauds Hrabal's portrayal of World War II-era Czechoslovakia in The Little Town Where Time Stood Still and compliments its translation by James Naughton.]
In Tolstoy's world, no two unhappy families are alike. The same might be said of modern Eastern European writers, each scarred differently from a similar juncture of historical time and geographic space. Yet most have been determined, despite the banning and censorship of their work, and at risk of imprisonment or exile, to “tell the truth” about their epoch as they knew it. “A heavy biography,” as the exiled Romanian writer Norman Manea puts it, pithily describes many of their lives.
One soon realizes that little of the recent literature which has emerged from behind the former Iron Curtain arrives here without a complicated publication history. Yet lacking a sleuth's wits, it's often difficult to find out much about these writers' histories and the draconian measures they took to insure their work would appear in print, even in a samizdat edition. It's puzzling, too, that although several of the books discussed here were bestsellers in Europe, the reputations they've achieved abroad have had a...
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SOURCE: Schubert, Peter Z. Review of Hochzeiten im Hause, by Bohumil Hrabal. World Literature Today 64, no. 4 (autumn 1994): 847-48.
[In the following review, Schubert comments on the German translation of Svatby v domě, noting its autobiographical elements.]
The timing of the publication of Hochzeiten im Hause, the German translation of Svatby v domě (Weddings in the House; see WLT [World Literature Today] 63:I, p. 129), could not be better. While the book was being prepared for distribution, the author added to his collection of honors the most prestigious Czech literary award, the Jaroslav Seifert Prize, precisely for this autobiographical novel—although the book was published in Czech some six years earlier—and, almost at the same time, Susanna Roth, Hrabal's Swiss translator, received for her work the Pro Bohema Prize awarded to the best Bohemists. Even without the recent accolades, however, and the Nobel Prize nomination by the Czech PEN Club, Hrabal—perhaps the most popular writer in the Czech Republic—is not a name unknown to the German reading public. Although his works have been translated into some twenty-four languages, the translations into German have a commanding lead, with twenty-three of the approximately fifty rifles Hrabal has published in Czech, followed by Polish with fifteen translations. English trails far behind, with only five...
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SOURCE: Steinberg, Sybil S. Review of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, by Bohumil Hrabal. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 26 (26 June 1995): 86.
[In the following review, Steinberg offers a positive assessment of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age.]
The unnamed narrator of this comic rant [Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age] proclaims that any book worth its salt is “meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out.” Czech novelist Hrabal (Closely Watched Trains) very nearly fills that peculiar bill in this humorous and breathless affair, which is told in one never-ending sentence—a technique that just may make readers pay him the ultimate compliment by looking around for handy blunt objects. The narrator, a scurrilous old man who claims to have been a shoemaker and a brewer, approaches six sunbathing women and embarks on a rambling monologue about his past loves, the past in general and his “magic hands for what we called contessa shoes.” He enjoys telling scandalous tales about his betters, including the one about the old emperor looking up women's skirts. Hrabal, who has been cited as a major literary influence by Milan Kundera and Ivan Klíma, among others, is generally considered the most revered living Czech author. It's easy to see why. As this novel (originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1964) plays around...
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SOURCE: Boaz, Amy. Review of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, by Bohumil Hrabal. Library Journal 120, no. 12 (July 1995): 80.
[In the following review, Boaz suggests that Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age is “Rabelaisian,” calling attention to its playful use of vernacular storytelling.]
In this playful, Rabelaisian narrative [Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age] by the prominent Czech writer Hrabal (The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, Pantheon, 1993), a shoemaker, as “sensitive as Mozart and an admirer of the European Renaissance,” unwinds a yarn about his life and loves for the benefit of the “beauties.” He is chivalrous, our narrator—his maxims for the proper life include the advice “not to live in a pigsty and keep the ladies supplied with flowers”—and he tells each story in one stuffed, seamless sentence that embraces the high and low of life, rabbit breeders and priests, soldiers and bakers, and Maria Teresa. Couching his text in the humble vernacular of our “engineer of human feet,” Hrabal inserts profound concerns about human nature and religion—the lost, great message of Jesus, “a champ, a muscleman handy with a horsewhip”; and the rampant evil that turns our narrator against marriage and having children of his own. Still, he concludes on the up and up: “the world is a beautiful place, don't you think? not because...
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SOURCE: Hooper, Brad. Review of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, by Bohumil Hrabal. Booklist 92, no. 1 (1 September 1995): 39.
[In the following review, Hooper suggests that the plotless Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age is not designed for the casual reader.]
Hrabal, one of the foremost contemporary Czech writers, has devised a provocative little novel [Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age] for special readers. In a breathless monologue—in fact, in one unbroken sentence—an old shoemaker spouts off to a captive audience of young women about his life and ideas. From political history (“his son, the crown prince, was forced to marry Princess Stephanie of Belgium, but he was wild for Vetsera's body, she had these gigantic breasts and eyes”) to morality (“Christ wanted us to love our neighbors, he wanted discipline, not love on the sofa the way some mealy-brained idiots would have it”), the old man perambulates over a wide range of territory, spreading recollections and opinions far and wide. For readers who appreciate language for its own sake, this short book is fertile ground; for those who need a firm plot as anchorage, they had best turn elsewhere. For active foreign-literature collections.
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Nathanson, Donald L. Review of Too Loud a Solitude, by Bohumil Hrabal. American Journal of Psychiatry 153, no. 12 (December 1996): 1640.
[In the following review, Nathanson provides a positive assessment of Too Loud a Solitude, commenting on its poignancy and psychological insight.]
It feels good to read a novel [Too Loud a Solitude] about a man who loves his work, especially when the writing is transcendently beautiful, the observations are trenchant, and the apparent theme is all of the books from which Western culture has been constructed. Yet the opening sentences, repeated with slight variation as the introduction to five of its eight brief, almost poetic chapters, point the reader in another direction: “For thirty-five years now I've been in waste paper, and it's my love story. For thirty-five years I've been compacting wastepaper and books, smearing myself with letters until I've come to look like my encyclopedias—and a good three tons of them I've compacted over the years. I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.” This is the love poem of a man who stands ambivalently between his hunger for knowledge and his disgust for the processes through which it is disavowed by a society that treats books as mere things that must be discarded when they have ceased to entertain us by their...
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SOURCE: Hustvedt, Siri. “Magic Kingdom: Bohumil Hrabal's Dreamlike Realism.” Village Voice 42, no. 22 (3 June 1997): S30.
[In the following review, Hustvedt provides a positive assessment of I Served the King of England, suggesting that it is Hrabal's best novel.]
Bohumil Hrabal's I Served the King of England is not truly a forgotten book. It has been translated into many languages from its original Czech, including English, and was highly praised upon publication. And yet, traveling around this country last fall performing that grueling ritual known as the book tour, I discovered that the name of this wonderful writer meant nothing to the people in the bookstores where I read. In this sense, Hrabal must qualify as a writer who is not appreciated enough in the United States, and I Served the King of England (published in this country by Harcourt Brace) is his best book, a masterpiece of humor and poignancy, a book in which magic and reality overlap. Paul Wilson's translation is brilliant, a vivid reinvention of Hrabal's prose into English.
I Served the King of England is the story of Ditie. Not five feet tall, our hero is physically a runt, intellectually a midget, socially beneath his peers, and he spends years simply trying to raise himself to the level of the rest of the world. But little by little, his life exacts a change in him, and the...
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SOURCE: Pospiszyl, Tomas, and Jen Nessel. “Bohumil Hrabal, 1914-1997.” Nation 264, no. 25 (30 June 1997): 33-4.
[In the following essay, Pospiszyl and Nessel comment on Hrabal's work and the strange circumstances of his death.]
That arcane word “defenestration”—the act of throwing someone out of a window—holds a special place in Czech history, which is famous for two of them: One marked the beginning of the Hussite revolution, the radical people's movement of the Middle Ages; the second, a dumping of Catholic emissaries from the palace windows into a pile of manure, caused the Thirty Years' War. Both were symbolic prologues to tumultuous new periods in Central Europe.
On February 3, 82-year-old Bohumil Hrabal, considered by many the greatest modern writer in the Czech language, went out a window to his death. While recovering from hip surgery, he apparently tried to feed some birds from his hospital window, lost his balance and fell from the fifth floor. Known for the great neatness with which he dressed, he was found in a peaceful pose, as if only resting on the sidewalk, without any apparent injury and with his pajamas perfectly straightened and buttoned up. Hrabal's bizarre and tragic end raised questions about the official version of the accident, especially since voluntary falls from the fifth floor appear in at least two of his books. Hrabal, who had stopped writing...
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SOURCE: Czerwinski, F. J. Review of Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka, by Bohumil Hrabal. World Literature Today 73, no. 3 (summer 1999): 558.
[In the following review, Czerwinski comments on the barely disguised autobiographical elements of Total Fears and declares Hrabal “genius.”]
Even during his most serious moments, there is an air of flirtation in Bohumil Hrabal's attitude toward his subject matter. Nowhere is it more apparent than in his comments on his wife Pipsi, “who was so long dying that in the end she became a saint.” Each mention of his wife is accompanied by a tender anecdote or an agonizingly complicated metaphor. As she lay dying, Pipsi was “wound up on to a long, long thread … as if that thread passed through my own heart.” Most surprising is that these protestations of love are directed to another woman: Dubenka (April Gifford), the muse in his later years.
Written during the period 1989-92, the letters were referred to as “lyrical reportage” by Hrabal, who held nothing back. They are both confessional and an apologia pro vita sua. Saturated with thoughts of suicide, old age, and past transgressions, they are nonetheless poetic excavations of the human heart. They may also be read as historical pieces, documenting Hrabal's psyche during the political upheaval when the essence of freedom was being defined by both former dissidents...
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SOURCE: Schubert, Peter Z. Review of Ich dachte an die goldenen Zeiten, by Bohumil Hrabal. World Literature Today 74, no. 1 (winter 2000) 192.
[In the following review of the German translation of Proluky, Schubert discusses Hrabal's previous autobiographical works in translation and describes the content of Ich dachte an die goldenen Zeiten.]
The recently deceased doyen of Czech literature, Bohumil Hrabal, added the Jaroslav Seifert Prize, the most prestigious Czech literary award, to his many honors, for the autobiographical trilogy with the summary title Svatby v domě (Weddings in the House; see WLT [World Literature Today] 63.1 p 129), written in 1984-85. The author looks here at his own life through the eyes of his wife Eliška and comments on it ironically. Svatby v domě, the first volume of the trilogy, is a continuous narration about the writer's meeting with Eliška in 1954 and their life until the wedding in 1957. Vita Nuova, the second volume, is composed of pictures from the next five years of their life “On the Dam of Eternity” (Hrabal lived on On the Dam Street). Hrabal refers to a “method of tracking down the buried pictures of my life.” Hence the subtitle “Kartinky” (Pictures) does not refer only to the pictures created by the prominent figure of the novel, the graphic artist Vladimir Boudnik. These first two parts of...
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SOURCE: Lee, Pearl Angelika. Review of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, by Bohumil Hrabal. World Literature Today 74, no. 2 (spring 2000): 437-38.
[In the following review, Lee praises Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, commenting on the skill of its translator and on Hrabal's evocation of the ambiance of a bygone era.]
The fact that we are presently reviewing a work which first appeared thirty-six years ago, in 1964 [Taneční hodiny pro starší a pokročilé], should be interpreted as a tribute to not only a great writer but also a great translator of the twentieth century. Readers already familiar with Bohumil Hrabal will recognize in this short tale, accompanied by six elegant illustrations by Vladimir Suchanek, many of the literary traits and themes from his other works. It's all here again: sex, beer, war, reflections on the body (as a tribute to the “European Renaissance”). Readers discovering Hrabal with this text will enter into the “typical” world of Central European literature with the gratifying assurance that this translation by Michael Heim—an experienced Mitteleuropa hand—is the best Anglo-American translation of our times.
More a string of digressions than an incomplete sentence, this interior monologue of a shoemaker, who describes himself as “an engineer of human feet” and as a hero with a memory (“a true...
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