Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) was born in Brno, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. More interested in poetry and the life of the brewery managed by his stepfather than in his studies, Hrabal eventually enrolled in the law faculty at Charles University in Prague. The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 led to the closing of the universities and Hrabal did not complete his degree until 1946. Not inclined to practice law and unable to find a publisher for his poetry once the Communist Party came to power in 1948, Hrabal held a long series of odd jobs, including notary’s clerk, warehouseman, railroad worker, insurance agent, traveling salesman, foreman in a foundry, wastepaper recycling center worker, and stagehand. In 1962 he became a full-time writer, but due to government restrictions was obliged to publish much of his work in underground editions or abroad. The motion-picture adaptation of his novella Closely Watched Trains brought Hrabal international recognition, including the 1967 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, but only in 1976 was he “rehabilitated” by the government and permitted to publish select works. By the time of his death—he fell from a fifth-floor window in a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the birds—Hrabal was one of the world’s most famous Czech writers and the author of nearly fifty books. Among his other works available in English translation are The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, I Served the King of England, and Too Loud a Solitude.

IN THE REVIEW

The Magic Flute

The following is drawn from a recent essay by Bohumil Hrabal. It was written shortly after the demonstrations in Prague this January held to commemorate the death of Jan Palach, who had immolated himself in January 1968 to protest the invasion of Soviet troops and the overthrow of the Dubcek …