Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Despite its wry comedy, Hrabal’s novella conveys a deep sense of the tragedy and futility of war, especially in its impact on ordinary people. There are no heroes in this book—only small people trying to cope with the disruptions and chaos of war. Hrabal’s lack of ideological conformity typifies the experimental literature that emerged during the Prague Spring, the brief period of liberalization before the Soviet invasion in 1968. The setting may be World War II, but, as with so much of the contemporary literature of Central and Eastern Europe, there is a subtext that points to the misfortunes of history and geography that have denied small nations the right to self-determination. There is an intimation, in Milos’ fate, of the tragicomedy of individuals and nations pitted against events beyond their control.