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Bounced Czech

Czech Writer Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997)

Typically, it takes me a while to really get warmed up to what I consider a great author. For Bohumil Hrabal, I read a couple of short story collections (Mr Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult and Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age) before I read two novels that blew me away: I Served the King of England and now The Little Town Where Time Stood Still.

Now I myself am ¼ Czech, though I never met my Czech grandfather; so I am very comfortable with the world portrayed by Eastern European fiction. In The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, there is a long scene about butchering pork that recalls my childhood in a Hungarian neighborhood in Cleveland. The scene is almost a threnody to the rich Czech and Hungarian pork-based cuisines.

In fact, the book is a lament for Eastern European small-town life which was largely destroyed by Communism. For this, Hrabal suffered years of censorship. It was only with the Velvet Revolution that brought Jaroslav Hašek into power that he really came into his own.

I cannot read his books without emotion: As a cultural Hungarian, I find tears forming in my eyes when Hrabal reminds me of my own origins or such things as the worship of Emperor Franz Joseph I (or Ferenc Jozsef, as we called him in Magyar).

In the months to come, I plan to read as much of Hrabal as I can find in English translation. Although I am part Czech, I cannot speak the language.