Bohumil Hrabal, who is said to be the most important Czech writer of the 20th century, was born in 1914 in the city of Brno, then still part of Austria Hungary. He died in 1997 under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He fell from a window, feeding pigeons. Because he mentions suicide in several of his books, many believe he jumped deliberately.
Closely Observed Trains is possibly his most famous novel. It’s very short, just under 100 pages. It has been made into a movie.
Hrabal is famous for his use of very long sentences and expressive style.
Here are the first sentences:
By this year, the year “forty-five”, the Germans had already lost command of the air-space over our little town. Over the whole region, in fact, and for that matter, the whole country, the dive-bombers were disrupting communications to such an extent that the morning trains ran at noon, the noon trains in the evening, and the evening trains in the night, so that now and then it might happen that an afternoon train came in punctual to the minute, according to the time-table, but only because it was the morning passenger train running four hours late.
And some details and the blurb for those who want to join
March, Friday 31
Closely Observed Trains – Ostře sledované vlaky by Bohumil Hrabal, 96 pages, Czech Republic 1965, WWII
For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the small but strategic railway station in Bohemia in 1945 is full of complex preoccupations. There is the exacting business of dispatching German troop trains to and from the toppling Eastern front; the problem of ridding himself of his burdensome innocence; and the awesome scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka’s gross misuse of the station’s official stamps upon the telegraphist’s anatomy. Beside these, Milos’s part in the plan for the ammunition train seems a simple affair.
The discussion starts on Friday, 31 March 2017.
Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2017, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.
24 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong March 2017: Closely Observed Trains – Ostře sledované vlak by Bohumil Hrabal”
I’ve wanted to get my mitts on this one for ages, but could never find it in any library. Don’t know if I’ll get in time for the readalong, but I’ll try.
That would be so great. It’s very short, even if you don’t get it right away, you might still make it.
Not even available for inter-library transfer and seems to be rather steeply priced on Book Depository. Will have to investigate further.
I got the French translation for that reason. Way cheaper than the English.
Maybe try http://www.abebooks.com. I’m not sure how the shipping would work for you, but there are some affordable copies.
Thanks for the tip. I’ve managed to find a source where the shipping is not too prohibitive and treated myself to Too Loud a Solitude as well… although, darn, am supposed to be on a book-buying ban…
I’m glad you’ll be reading along with us.
Let’s just hope it arrives in time…
I really enjoyed this (there’s a review at mine) so really looking forward to your thoughts.
Good to know, Max. I’ll be looking at your review once I’ve done mine.
It’s a powerful book – look forward to your thoughts!
Oh good. I’m glad you thought you t was powerful.
I’m ready! I got it right before I put in place my book-buying limit. 🙂
Yay! I did the same, btw – ordered right after I made the list in December.
I look forward to your upcoming post on this book.
I tend to like innovative prose styles so I think that I would find the long sentences interesting.
Thanks, Brian. It should be interesting. Since I’m used to German and French literature, I’m familiar with long sentences anyway.
Im not going to be able to join but will be interested to see what you think of this – I have it in mind for the future
I’ve seen it mentioned a few times recently and people liked it.
I look forward to your post. I even have the film!
Thanks, Guy. I’ll be wathcing the movie too this month. Although I’ve got a bit of a movie review back log on my film blog.
For anyone who doesn’t have a copy, it’s being reprinted as a Penguin Classic on March 30th – though entitled Closely Watched Trains.
Thanks for letting us now, Grant.
It will be too ate for the readalong but for those who will get inspired by the post(s) it will be good to know.
I’ve just started reading. I have the 1968 Cape edition, translated by Edith Pargeter. Really enjoying it so far and the family background. I had a great grandfather who was an engine driver too!
I’m reading the French translation which is very good too. It’s great when you find a connection like that.