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I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal



Posted September 4, 2016 by

I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal – 1971

Reviewed by: J. Kotrie              Date: 9 May 2004

“And so I learned that money could not only buy you a beautiful girl, money could buy you poetry too.”

Such are Ditie’s flashes of “revelation” which punctuate Hrabal’s jaunt across the Bohemian lands over an unspecified number of decades, perhaps starting in the late 1920s. Ditie, his protagonist, is short, naive, ambitious and energetic. Desperate for experience and acceptance, as a young waiter he passes over the years from hotel to hotel, tries his hand at collaboration, fathering a cretinous Aryan child, in a kind of Czech version of Forrest Gump, sees and experiences with a simplicity that ensures his success. Hrabal spent part of his childhood in a brewery, listening hungrily to the stories of the “pub experts” who frequented the bar downstairs, before graduating to their status, and proceeding to spend much of the rest of his life drinking Pilsner and writing masterpieces like this. The Prague Jazz section was the only group able to semi officially and legally produce legal copies of this novel on its first printing under Communism. Of course this was on a strict basis of limited circulation. This was, however, somewhat impeded by the non literary figures, walking into the Jazz offices in a faint haze of alcohol, armed with beer mats inscribed: “Give him a couple of copies of ‘The King of England’, -Bohumil.” The man’s simplicity of lifestyle and literary presentation should not be confused with a simplicity of artistic agenda. Hrabal effortlessly crafts comedy, lurking political reality and a dreamscape of naive human interpretation which results in an exhilarating experience on one level, and an almost deniable but awesome subtextual gravity on the other.

I Served the King of England (New Directions Classic)
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