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- Hrabal, Bohumil — Closely Observed Trains (87 pages)
- Page count
Alas, the most regrettable thing about being several months behind on my book posts is that unreviewed books I've read are no longer fresh in my mind, so ideas I wanted to explore are completely forgotten or only vague wisps of memory. There was so much I wanted to say about this short book.
Closely Observed Trains is a metaphor for the people in a Nazi-occupied Czech town towards the end of the war. While our young protagonist, Miloš Hrma, and other station employees and townsfolk do closely observe the movement of trains (and Nazi personnel and supplies) through this hub, the reader is closely observing Miloš and a panoply of other characters pass through the pages with their freight. The narrative is sometimes difficult to follow as it hops around from recollection to the present, but this narrative unveils a rich tapestry of characters and stories — often morbidly humorous, sometimes cuttingly poignant. The juxtaposition of death and sex, purpose and meaninglessness, animal cruelty and human suffering help create an atmosphere verging on the absurd as people cling to their humanity as best they can in such inhumane circumstances.
The 1966 movie adaptation of this book, directed by Jiří Menzel, won the 1968 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I have not watched it yet, but I've ordered the DVD. Not only do I feel the film will be worth watching, but I suspect the book will be re-read in the near future, as there is a lot left to mine in this slim, rich volume.