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I Served the King of England


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Our very best writer today' Milan Kundera

About the Author

Bohumil Hrabal was born in 1914 in Brno-Zidenice, Moravia. He received a degree in Law from Prague's Charles University, and lived in Prague since the late 1940s. In the 1950s he worked as a manual laborer in the Kladno ironworks, from which he drew inspiration for his "hyper-realist" texts he was writing at that time. He won international acclaim for such books as I Served the King of England and Too Loud a Solitude. Hrabal is considered, along with Jaroslav Hasek and Karel Capek, as one of the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century, and perhaps the most important in the post-war period. In February 1997 he flew out of his hospital window never to return.


Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, this excellently translated novel by a major Czech writer brings into sharp focus the grotesque absurdities of recent Czech history. Dittie, a busboy with an inferiority complex and a driving ambition to become a millionaire, quickly rises to become a head waiter, but the respect he craves continues to allude him. When he marries a Nazi gym teacher, the Czechs despise him even more, while the Germans barely tolerate him. Rare stamps taken from wealthy Jews make his dream come true after the war, but his first-class hotel is soon nationalized by the Communists and he ends his life in poverty and isolation writing his memoirs. As is typical of Hrabal's work (e.g., Closely Watched Trains , LJ 2/1/69), the novel is full of zany characters whose antics range from supremely entertaining to bizarrely tragic. Highly recommended.-- Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park

Written in the form of a memoir, this playful social satire follows the rise and fall of a diminutive Czech waiter while mirroring the political turmoil of recent Czech history. Gleefully chronicling the grossness and corruption of the 1920s, Hrabal makes Ditie's early life delightful reading. The mood turns abruptly sour when Ditie falls in love with a German gym teacher in the '30s and becomes equally enamoured of her Nazi ideaology. After the war, Ditie is sentenced to prison as a collaborator; then becomes a hotelier with profits made from selling rare stamps stolen from Jewish concentration camp victims. He hopes to curry favor with his former employers, but they disdainfully ignore him. By the end of the book, with the coming of communism, Ditie has lost everything; he is banished to the former Sudetenland, with only some farm animals as company. The book begins brilliantly, but Hrabal's depiction of post-WW II Czechoslovakia is unrealistically rosy, and Ditie's moral transformation is not entirely persuasive. But the novel is always witty, often wise, and sparkles in Wilson's beautiful translation. (Mar.)

"The fantasising and storytelling deliver a body blow of total irreverence to the solemn mythopoeia of monumental historiography" * Times Literary Supplement *
"Hrabal bounces and floats. His mode is a sort of dancing realism, somewhere between fairytale and satire.He is a most sophisticated novelist, with a gusting humour and a hushed tenderness of detail. We should read him" -- Julian Barnes
"Well worth reading" * The Book Magazine *

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