The Gentle Barbarian
by Bohumil Hrabal
Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson
With a contribution by Bohumil Hrabal
The Gentle Barbarian is Bohumil Hrabal’s homage to Vladimír Boudník, one of the greatest Czech artists of the 1950s and 1960s, whose life came to a tragic end shortly after the Soviet invasion of 1968. Boudník and Hrabal had a close and often contentious friendship. For a brief period, in the early 1950s, they worked together in the Kladno steel works and lived in the same building in Prague.
Written in the early seventies, Hrabal’s anecdotal portrait of Boudník includes another controversial member of that early group of the Czech avantgarde: the poet Egon Bondy. While Hrabal and Bondy were evolving their aesthetic of “total realism,” Boudník developed his own artistic approach, “Explosionalism,” in which the boundaries between life and art become blurred, and everyday events take on the appearance and the substance of art.
Hrabal’s portrait of Boudník captures the strange atmosphere of a time in which the traditional values and structures of everyday life in Czechoslovakia were being radically dismantled by the Communists. But as The Gentle Barbarian demonstrates, creative spirits are able to reject, ignore, or burrow beneath the superficial “revolutionary” atmosphere of the time and find humor, inspiration, and a kind of salvation amid its general intellectual and creative poverty.