Closely Watched Trains

by Bohumil Hrabal

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Closely Watched Trains, a 1965 coming-of-age novella by the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. As the main character and narrator, twenty-two year old Milos Hrma tells the story of his time working at a village railway during the second World War that leads to his first love and surprisingly his brave and tragic death.

His sexual inexperience is in contrast to the station's womanizing senior dispatcher Ladislav Hubika. Despite the station master's distaste at his actions, Ladislav continuously brings young ladies back to the station at night, including the station telegraphist, Virginia Svata. It is his exploits and gung-ho attitude that encourages Milos to try for a relationship with the attractive female conductor Masha.

The story comes to an abrupt close when Milos proves his bravery once and for all by blowing up a Nazi ammunition train, killing himself in the process.

Other characters include Viktoria Freie, a member of the Czech resistance, Councillor Zednicek, a Nazi collaborator, as well as Milo's grandfather, great grandfather, father, mother, and great Aunt Beatrice.

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