The first time I read it, I was in the Kolej Komenskejo in Praha 6 off the Pohorelec stop of Tramvaji 22 (57 late at night). I was sick, staying away from the bars and the delicious Pilsner Urquell to regain my health.
I was sitting on my bed under the buzz of the fluorescent light, in the far too small room which consisted of two closets, two tables, two beds, two desks- parallel in unadorned post-communist progress. I started to read my roommate's current Czech Literature assignment. The class had read Karel Capek, Milan Kundera - but everyone was buzzing about this Hrabal guy.
The story, based in Praha, instantly seized my interest. Beginning with an unadulterated, innocent busboy, the book rolls through the character Ditie's life with humor and tenderness.
Ditie is a fourteen year old, poor busboy learning the ropes from an accomplished maitre'd in The Golden Prague hotel. He loses his virginity to a prostitute Incidentally, I think the scene from American Beauty with the rose petals was ripped off from this book, Ditie decorates the girl's belly with flower petals.... He marries a Nazi gym teacher, has a child, amasses a fortune ... Ditie learns life under the most difficult of circumstances and eventually becomes a hotel owner himself.
Bohumil Hrabal writes about the history and changes of twentieth century Prague; the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and the reactions and lifestyles of the Czech people. Even in translation, the reader can feel the prose of Hrabal. It is pure, moving, and invites laughter at the absurd.
The book studies social interaction, explores in depth individualist motive and the inner voice. Making life new and showing the achievements of dreams and love. Hrabal gives existence this book.
As I read this book back in the Kolej Komenskejo almost six years ago, I didn't know that Bohumil Hrabal lived just down the hill from me. I didn't know that I would eventually consume everything he wrote. I didn't know that I would feel his pain and hurt in my soul. I didn't know that he would throw himself out of his hospital window. I do know that I miss him and am appreciative.
Oh yeah, he does serve the Emperor of Ethiopia - but learns life as he would have served the King of England.
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