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by Michael Henry Heim,Bohumil Hrabal

Originally published as The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, the fourteen stories in Romance showcase the breadth of Bohumil Hrabal’s considerable gifts: his humor of the grotesque, his often surprising warmth, and his hard-edged, fast-paced style. In the story "Romance," a plumber’s apprentice and a gypsy girl reach toward a tentative connection across the chasm that separates their worlds. Another unlikely love story, "World Cafeteria," features a romance between a young man whose girlfriend has just committed suicide and a bride whose husband lands in jail on their wedding night. The tone turns to the absurd in "The Death of Mr. Baltisberger," where a crippled ex-motorcyclist and three people he meets at the track exchange wildly improbably reminiscences, while a fatal Grand Prix motorcycle race rages around them. Hrabal’s psychological insight into quotidian interactions saturates stories such as "A Dull Afternoon," where a mysterious, self-absorbed stranger disrupts the psychic calm of a neighborhood tavern and becomes the silent catalyst for an unwanted truth. Throughout the collection, noted translator Michael Henry Heim captures the quirky speech patterns and idiosyncratic takes on life that have made Hrabal’s characters an indispensable part of world literature.
Download The Death of Mr. Baltisberger (Northwestern World Classics) epub
ISBN: 0810127016
ISBN13: 978-0810127012
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Contemporary
Author: Michael Henry Heim,Bohumil Hrabal
Language: English
Publisher: Northwestern University Press; Reprint edition (November 30, 2010)
Pages: 216 pages
ePUB size: 1901 kb
FB2 size: 1640 kb
Rating: 4.7
Votes: 842
Other Formats: mbr docx azw lrf

... the Pasha of Palaverers, the Regent of Roisterers, the funniest writer in any language of the late Twentieth Century was the Czech Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997). This collection of fourteen stories was complied by Hrabal himself and published in Czechoslovakia in 1966, with the title `Automat Svet.' I doubt that the stories were intended as a sequence -- they seem quite diverse in stylistic mastery, at least in English translation -- but they jostle together comfortably. The slightest mere anecdote among them is delightfully wry, while the best of them (the first two and the last three) are succinct masterpieces and precious examples of Hrabal's sardonic humanism.

"Palavering" is Harbal's speciality, his verbal `tag' for his own artfully erratic, elusive, elliptical literary format. Palaverers are his barroom raconteurs, his models of salty speech and scurrilous jests, and his own narratives totter as eccentrically as the homeward stumble of any tippler in Prague. But the tottering is camoflage for Hrabal's acute social/political criticisms; as a notorious drunken palaverer, perhaps Hrabal survived both the Nazis and the Communists simply by being too `wild and crazy' to be considered much of a threat. There's always a surreal Punch-and-Judy absurdity in Harbal's narratives, but his humor glazes dark depths of human/humane despair.

The last story in the book - Want to See Golden Prague? - is a slim seven-page precis of Hrabal's palavering, both a love-song to Life and to his own quirky life in Prague, and a dirge to the bleak history of his world in his times. Mr. Bamba, the prim dwarfish undertaker, and Mr. Kytka, the gigantic slovenly poet, walk along the river in Prague, on the far side of which the fire brigade is haplessly testing its pumps and hoses. Kytka wants Bamba to open his coffin warehouse to the surrealist poets of the city for a reading and lecture. The two discuss the trappings and the implications of such event while Kytka and the firemen shout insults at each other across the river. Kytka proposes to send engraved invitations to "Beautiful young ladies who wish to throw off the bonds of sexual hypocrisy... because reality is alcoholic." Eventually the two strollers start to palaver about the impact the mere sight of Golden Prague can have on sensitive individuals (though it isn't clear whether Prague is the real city or a synecdoche for passion). The massive poet offers to lift the tiny undertaker high enough to behold Golden pargue once more ....

Hrabal's four-page one-sentence "introduction" to this collection, his "Handbook for the Apprentice Palaverer," declares:
".... I am the great present of small expectations and great expected wrecks and wrong notes, the horizons on my own grotesque horizon glimmer with minor provocations and miniature scandals, as a result I am a clown, an animator, a storyteller, and private tutor as well as informer, poison-pen pal, I regard worthless news items as possible preambles to my constitution, which i constantly alter, which I can never complete, I see gigantic constructions in the roughest of sketches, even when they are no more than rickety old child-sized coffins, I am a man growing old but pregnant with youth, my facial expressions and words form the mobile grammar of my inner slang, within a half hour a warm plate of meat and a glass of lager can prove to me the transsubstantiation of matter into good mood, cheap metamorphosis, the world's first miracle ... "

Hrabal has become known to anglophones chiefly throught the films based on his novels "Closely Watched Trains" and "I Served the King of England." Those are both hilariously dark films, but the novels are even funnier and deeper in darkness. My own favorite among Hrabal's works is the novel "Too Loud a Solitude," which I have reviewed. But if you've never read anything by Hrabal, this collection of deceptively simple stories might well get you started.
Bohumil Hrabal is a very popular Czech writer best known for his collaborations with director Jiri Menzel on film versions of his stories such as Closely Observed Trains and I Served The King of England. His stories are hilarious and also poignant, written in his distinctive "palavering" style; like being button-holed by the funniest character in the pub and regaled with a yarn that lingers long in the memory.
If you enjoyed Jaroslav Hasek's "Good Soldier Svejk" Hrabal is a great way to enjoy more of a particularly Czech-flavoured humour with substance.
If you've already enjoyed some Hrabal this book will not disappoint.
The hallmark of these stories is a uniqueness of style that Bohumil Hrabal perfected to an extent that I've never read before: an ability to integrate two completely unrelated events into one seamless narrative. A young man rushes through the streets of Prague during his motorcycle license test as his instructor shouts instruction from the back seat, while at the same time both men reminisce about the crazy adventures of the young man's father; or, two young men shout over a freak windstorm, discussing dreams and gambling while overcoming various obstacles on their way to a funeral; or, a tavern recently demolished by a runaway streetcar does odd business with oblivious customers as the tavern-keeper keeps one eye on the streetcars that continue to careen in his direction and one eye on the celler steps, just in case history repeats itself. It's this sort of ironic displacement that supplies these story with their humor, and when they succeed, make Mr. Hrabal a comic writer in the most enlightened sense.

While these three stories, and a handful of others, were delightfully wry and indicative of a certain cultural outlook, the others, for the most part, failed to resonate with me. This makes me feel like the proverbial wet blanket, especially when reading the high praise of the other reviews, but in the end I can only give the collection a middling grade, as only a few of the stories had any staying power with me.

The collection doesn't put me off Mr. Hrabel, or from seeking out his novels in the future. I also think that readers who appreciate a style of comedy that can be so sharp and black as to completely leave humor behind may find 'The Death of Mr. Baltisberger' an engaging surprise. Mr. Hrabal's greatest trick, though, by far, is to never let on to the reader that he knows what he's doing. In comparison to authors who are infinitely self-aware at just how ironic and perceptive they are, it makes these stories stand out as unique havens of droll commentary.
Sometimes late at night I remeber holding it in my hands and reading it. Once, just once, and I had to give it back to the vile Bohemian who loaned it to me, who was vile because he would not let me steal it. You would not be here if you did not want more Hrablania, so, you do not need me to tell you the quality of this book, except it is just as Hrabal as the best of them, and perhaps even more so---the short story seems well suited to the master palavarer. Me, I am saving up whatever it will take to get ahold of a copy.