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 ?

Welcome to Eastern European Lit month

 

 

Well I’m a day late but earlier in the year I said I waned to do an Eastern European month .Thus reading books from what made up the soviet bloc behind the iron curtain before it fell . I have long enjoyed the literature from this region . From Ismail Kadare , Witold Gombrowicz to new voices like Andrej Nikoladis .The region also has three of my favourite publishers .

Istros books – publishing the best in Balkan fiction . I have reviewed a number of their books and every one has been a gem . Suggest book – The son by Andrej Nikoladis

the son Andrej Nikolaidis

Twisted spoon – They mainly do Czech fiction modern and classic but have done a few from elsewhere in Eastern Europe . Suggested book Of kids and parents by Emil Hakl .

of kids and parents

of kids and parents

Stork press – bring great voice from poland but also a great look at the uk through Polish eyes . Suggested book Madame Mephisto by A M Bakalar .

So a few suggestions .This just a small try out year , obviously with recent events I fell behind in planning but have a few books read for the month and look forward to every ones choices this month ,

Eastern Europe month March 2015

File:EasternBloc BorderChange38-48.svg

Now I do like a  good reading month, so far  I have run two Spanish Lit months and now want to do an Eastern european reading month , i tried and failed to do a Polish one a few years ago so East Europe seems a better chance more countries more writers .What countries you may ask  , so all the countries in this picture  , or them since the split of the eastern bloc so this map shows it just before the split ,of course there is many more countries now .I for one have a huge collection of books from the former Eastern Bloc countries waiting to be read also some of my favourite pulishers, publish from their Istros books and Twisted spoon  .Have you a favourite country and writer from the former Eastern Bloc ?

 

 

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