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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.

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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.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

Milo Hrma

Milo Hrma (MEE-lohsh HUHR-mah), the narrator, an apprentice train dispatcher. Inexperienced and innocent at the age of twenty-two, Milo views the bizarre and brutal events around him with morally noncommittal curiosity. Following his first sexual encounter, which is a failure, he attempts suicide. Although rescued, he remains preoccupied by doubts regarding his manhood until drawn into a plot to blow up a Nazi ammunition train. In acting deliberately, he finds the answer to his persistent question, “Am I a man?”

Ladislav Hubika

Ladislav Hubika, (hew-BIHCH-keh), the senior dispatcher. Hubika, whose name means “nice lips,” draws Milo’ envy and admiration with his success with women. He is under investigation for imprinting all the station’s rubber stamps on the bare buttocks of the female telegraphist late one night. A fearless nonconformist, he is a key figure in the plot to blow up the munitions train.


Lánsk , the stationmaster. Lánsk takes great pride in his Venetian armchair, Persian carpet, and marble clock. Hot-tempered and exacting as a boss and as a husband, he dissipates his rages by bellowing into a heating vent. Although careful to conform outwardly to Nazi rule, he symbolically protests the brutal takeover of neighboring Poland by killing all of his Nuremberg pigeons (a German breed) and replacing them with Polish silver-points.

Virginia Svatá

Virginia Svatá, the station telegraphist. An attractive, fun-loving young woman, Virginia willingly participates in Hubika’s lascivious escapade and refuses to incriminate him during the investigation.


Masha, a conductor, Milo’ girlfriend. Young and exuberant, Masha easily forms a mutual attachment to Milo while they are painting a fence together. Blaming her own inexperience for their sexual fiasco, she sticks by Milo after his suicide attempt, making a date with him shortly before the sabotage is to be carried out.

Viktoria Freie

Viktoria Freie, a member of the Czech resistance. The name of this well-endowed beauty means “victorious freedom” and is probably a code name. Viktoria not only delivers the bomb that is to be used in the sabotage but also provides Milo with an unforgettable sexual initiation that dispels his self-doubt and inspires him to act courageously.

Councillor Zednicek

Councillor Zednicek, the head of a commission to determine whether a criminal charge should be lodged against Hubika for his indiscretion. Zednicek has a son in the German army and is himself an opportunistic collaborator with the Nazis.


Slun (SLEWSH -nee), the traffic chief who arrives at the station with...

(The entire section contains 1427 words.)

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Critical Essays