Bohumil Hrabal

Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) was born in Moravia and started writing poems under the influence of French surrealism. In the early 1950s, he began to experiment with a stream-of-consciousness style, and eventually wrote such classics as Closely Watched Trains (made into an Academy Award-winning film directed by Jiri Menzel), The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, and Too Loud a Solitude. He fell to his death from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the pigeons.

All My Cats

Nonfiction by Bohumil Hrabal

Translated by Paul Wilson

In the autumn of 1965, flush with the unexpected success of his first published books, the Czech author Bohumil Hrabal bought a cottage in Kersko. From then until his death in 1997, he divided his time between Prague and his country retreat, where he wrote and tended to a community of feral cats. Over the years, Hrabal’s relationship to cats grew deeper and more complex, becoming a measure of the pressures, both private and public, that impinged on his life as a writer.…
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Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult

Fiction by Bohumil Hrabal

Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

Never before published in English, the stories in Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult were written mostly in the 1950s and present the Czech master Bohumil Hrabal at the height of his powers. The stories capture a time when Czech Stalinists were turning society upside down, inflicting their social and political experiments on mostly unwilling subjects. These stories are set variously in the gaslit streets of post-war Prague; on the raucous and dangerous factory floor of the famous Poldi steelworks where Hrabal himself once worked; in a cacophonous open-air dance hall where classical and popular music come to blows; at the basement studio where a crazed artist attempts to fashion a national icon; on the scaffolding around a decommissioned church.…
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I Served the King of England

Fiction by Bohumil Hrabal

First published in 1971 in a typewritten edition, then finally printed in book form in 1989, I Served the King of England is “an extraordinary and subtly tragicomic novel” (The New York Times), telling the tale of Ditie, a hugely ambitious but simple waiter in a deluxe Prague hotel in the years before World War II. Ditie is called upon to serve not the King of England, but Haile Selassie. It is one of the great moments in his life.…
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Everything changes the moment one takes pity on a human being or a mouse cowering in a corner. All of a sudden, a different world appears before our eyes, both more terrifying and more beautiful. That’s what makes Hrabal’s stories and novels genuinely moving. And so was his end. He died in 1997 at the age of eighty-two, falling out of a hospital window in Prague while apparently reaching to feed some pigeons.
—Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books
All My Cats is both a simple tale about a man and his many pets, and a powerful metaphor. It’s a book that forces us to reckon with the idea that to be human and to be alive is also to be guilty and to suffer for it. This is a book about what one does when existence becomes untenable, and how guilt—as it gnaws relentlessly through us—must be carried for a lifetime.
—Lucy Scholes Paris Review
Searingly frank and strangely moving, “All My Cats” is a welcome addition to a singular body of work.
—Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune
There are moments of exquisite tenderness and others of deep dread, and Hrabal leaps from one to the other withm—yes—feline agility.
—Natalia Holtzman, Los Angeles Review of Books
In the end, Hrabal’s cats keep him alive… and Hrabal knows better than anyone that our animality is what makes us human.
The New Yorker, Becca Rothfeld
Though tinged with sadness, it is a sweet, and often funny story. The writing is wonderfully vivid, particularly in the descriptions of animals and nature, and the artful translation elegantly captures the lightness of Hrabal’s prose. Ultimately, this is a book about what happens when life becomes unsustainable—when pressures and frustrations build, and we cannot find happiness, despite flickering moments of content. But it is also about cats, and what it is like to love them.
Czechoslovakia’s greatest writer.
—Milan Kundera
This slender volume from novelist Hrabal (1914–1997), originally published in 1983, is an affecting meditation on the joys and occasional griefs of sharing his life with a large group of cats. While working in Prague during the week, Hrabal constantly worries about the animals that inhabit—and which he’s allowed to completely overrun—his country cottage, and only upon returning there for the weekend can he feel relieved. Should anything happen to him or his wife, he frets, “Who would feed the cats?” So when a new litter brings the cottage’s feline population over capacity, and Hrabal rashly decides to kill several kittens, readers will be shocked. That he can keep them on his side afterward—by persuasively showing himself as appalled at what he’s done—is a testament to his storytelling skills.
Publishers Weekly
All My Cats is a stunningly revealing, occasionally deranged exploration of self, with cat ownership the frame through which that exploration is presented, by one of postwar Europe’s greatest writers.
Michigan Quarterly Review
Hrabal is a spider of a writer: subtle and sly, patient, with invisible designs. He never proclaims — he never needs to. He envelops.
—Parul Sehgal, New York Times Book Review
Hrabal, to my mind, is one of the greatest European prose writers.
—Philip Roth
Hrabal is quite capable of a Chekhovian realism, but always watchful for the splendid and sublime.
—James Wood, London Review of Books
A master.
The New Yorker
Hrabal is a spider of a writer: subtle and sly, patient, with invisible designs. He never proclaims — he never needs to. He envelops.
—Parul Sehgal, New York Times Book Review
Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult shows off a distinctly different Hrabal than the one English-language readers have grown accustomed to.
—Hal Hlavinka, The Quarterly Conversation
The essence of Hrabal’s fiction is to draw beauty from what isn’t, to find hope where we’re not likely to look … to show that we are all of us ‘magnificent.’
—Meghan Forbes, The Los Angeles Review of Books
One of the most authentic incarnations of magical Prague, an incredible union of earthy humor and baroque imagination.
—Milan Kundera
Hrabal’s magical stories are comic and human–they are really desires embodied… . They inhabit a utopian province, the realm of laughter and tears.
—James Wood, London Review Of Books
An extraordinary and subtly tragicomic novel.
The New York Times
Hrabal, in Freud’s terms, is a great humorist. And a great writer.
—James Wood
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