Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabal

 

 

Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabil

Czech fiction

Original title –  Ostře sledované vlaky

Translator – Edith Pargeter

Source personnel copy

Upon the sand, upon the bay
“There is a quick and easy way” you say
Before you illustrate
I’d rather state:
“I’m not the man you think I am
I’m not the man you think I am”

And Sorrow’s native son
He will not smile for anyone

And Pretty Girls Make Graves
Oh…

It had to be the Smiths , Milos could have maybe been the first smiths fan if he wanted ! source 

Well I read this years ago , then a few years later thanks to Guardian managed to get hold of the dvd of the film .This slim novella is a classic of Czech fiction .Bohumil Hrabal at the time he was writing was maybe along side writer like Harval , Skvorecky and a few others made Czech lit the lit to read in the cold war . Hrabal himself  studied law postman , clerk and bailer of wastepaper . Before he finally became a writer and spent most of his writing life in Prague . He has a number of his books translated into English .

Dispatcher Hubicka welcomed me back , and told me at once that we were to be on duty together , for after three months of sick I should have to start learning all over again . And then he asked me what the time was , and pulled up my sleeve from my wrist , but instead of looking at my watch he was staring straight t the scar over my healed wound .

Milos is given help but maybe not the best he will learn .

The setting for the book is 1945 , at a small station , but important hub for germans we meet Milos . He Milos is the main character of the book this young man . He  has a girlfriend , whom he is having trouble getting really close to . At work there is the boss a dispatcher called Hubicka . His problem he is more taken with the telegraphist at the station and trying to stamp her on the behind with , than his job . The job is as the title says closely observing trains , thus making sure the trains full of German solders and arms don’t have any hold ups .Milos is stressed doing this letting down his girlfriend and then because of that tries to take his life this is where were we first meet him  . Only to return and get caught in the same cycle again .

But dispatcher Hubicka was gazing unto the blue sky , and now as I followed his gaze , I , too , could see what he was seeing there : our telegraphist Virginia  stretched out across the entire heaven , and my Hubicka gently turning up her skirt , and then taking one stamp after another and with along movements printing those stamps on our telegraphist;s behind ..

this is why he ends up hubicka has his eyes elsewhere .

Now how do you cover this one . It’s hard it is only 90 pages long .But in some ways it covers . Much more than you feel can be covered in 90 pages .Love ,sex and romance through Milos and his boss we see the good and the bad and failure and success in a way . The war this is 1945 and there is an undercurrent of why the German needs this to be so smooth and that is the war is being lost . Satire there is part of this reminds me of Catch 22 at times Milos has similar problems as Yossarian . They are both caught up in a mad world seeing the madness but not able to escape it  .Yossarian being the piloting of the plane . Milos is the inability to perform with his girlfriend . I think the is a real beauty is the way Hrabal evokes this world of a small  bohemian station , subtle details like the trains coming and going remind of us where we are but also add as a commentary on maybe what was happening at the time ,maybe also the Germans could be changed for the Soviets ?  Hrabal wrote the book  in 1965 .I must watch the film again which in its own way brought the dimension of the Prague spring to screen more in a way .

Have you read this book or any by him ?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. naomifrisby
    Mar 04, 2015 @ 08:12:42

    I read Too Loud a Solitude a few years ago and absolutely loved it; I should read more of his, this sounds great.

    Reply

  2. Jonathan
    Mar 04, 2015 @ 20:36:31

    I’ve only seen the film and that was years ago when there was a season of new-wave films or similar. I’ll have to read the book though.

    Reply

  3. Mytwostotinki
    Mar 05, 2015 @ 11:11:44

    I read I served the King of England years ago and liked it. Now I have The Little Town Where Time Stood Still on my huge TBR pile. Not sure if I can include it in my reviews in March, but I am looking forward to read it soon. Thanks for bringing Hrabal back to my attention, a very interesting author.

    Reply

  4. Max Cairnduff
    Mar 09, 2015 @ 14:23:36

    Thanks Stu. There’s a review of this at mine too, sadly still the only Hrabal I’ve read. Subtle is a great word for it. Glad you liked it as much as I did.

    Reply

  5. Jody
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 17:48:01

    Just watched the DVD of this on YouTube last nite.

    I couldn`t understand a word they said, but certainly enjoyed the subtle mood and evocative atmospheric tone of this era.

    Reply

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