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Posts Tagged ‘Czech Literature’

I have wanted to read Václav Havel’s play ‘Temptation‘ for a long time. I finally got around to reading it.

The story told in ‘Temptation‘ goes like this. In the office of a scientific institute, some scientists are lounging around. The Deputy Director and Director walk in. They all have a brief conversation. The Director tells everyone that some strange things are happening at the institute which needs to be investigated. It later turns out that he was implying that someone was dabbling in the occult. Later the scene shifts to one of the scientists, Foustka’s house. And we discover that Foustka is the one dabbling in the occult. Then a mysterious stranger visits Foustka. Without saying anything directly, the stranger refers to the party in Foustka’s institute later in the evening and tells him that he wants to help Foustka and make a deal with him. Interesting things happen at the party, not necessarily something exceptional, but things which look real but stretch the fabric of reality, things which are too good to be true.

Who is this stranger? What happens at the party? What happens to Foustka’s dabbling with the occult? This is narrated in the rest of the play.

I found ‘Temptation‘ interesting, but I didn’t love it. Václav Havel takes the Faustian fable and sets it in ’80s Czechoslovakia in the middle of an institute mired in bureaucracy and tries to explore what happens. The play has an absurdist quality as some of the scenes get repeated with some minor changes, and the dialogue in those scenes are vague without meaning anything, and nothing much happens in them. We feel like we’re watching ‘Waiting for Godot‘. The ending was surprising and I didn’t see that coming.

The mysterious stranger is an interesting character and he speaks some of my favourite lines. This one made me smile 🙂

“Your answer had eighty-six words. Considering its semantic value that isn’t exactly a small number, and if I were you I wouldn’t reproach anybody too severely for redundancy.”

This one made me think.

“My dear Sir, the truth isn’t merely what we believe, after all, but also why and to whom and under what circumstances we say it.”

This one – a mafia don could have spoken this one 😁

“To deceive a liar is fine, to deceive a truth teller is still allowable, but to deceive the very instrument that gives us the strength to deceive and that allows us in advance to deceive with impunity – that, you truly cannot expect to get away with.”

Have you read ‘Temptation‘? What do you think about it?

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I read my second Bohumil Hrabal book today – ‘Closely Watched Trains‘.

The time is towards the end of the Second World War. Germany is losing the war, but Czechoslovakia is still under German occupation. Milos works in a small, sleepy Czech railway station as an apprentice. His work involves keeping an eye on the passing trains and showing the right signals. He has a boss who is more like a colleague and is an interesting character, and they both report to the station master who almost behaves like their dad – affectionate and expressive in equal measure. Milos is in love with Masha. The story is related by Milos and we get to know more about him and his family (I loved Milos’ depiction of his own father, who is a very fascinating person) and the interesting happenings in that town and that station, and the interesting things about his colleagues. We also get to know about the different kinds of trains which pass through the station. Things are all going well at this point for Milos and his friends, but one day Milos and his boss receive a strange errand. What happens after that is told in the rest of the story.

Closely Watched Trains‘ depicts beautifully the small-town Czechoslovakia during the war. Bohumil Hrabal’s prose is filled with charm and humour and the story is lots of fun to read. Towards the end the story takes an interesting turn and kicks to another gear which was totally unexpected. I didn’t see that coming. I was expecting that the story will end with humour and charm with everyone living happily everafter, but the author had something else in store.

Other reviews

Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

Marina (Finding Time to Write)

Kaggsy (Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings)

I enjoyed reading ‘Closely Watched Trains‘. Have you read it?

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I have wanted to read Bohumil Hrabal for a long time. I finally got around to reading my first Bohumil Hrabal book, ‘Cutting it Short’.

The story is narrated by Maryska, the wife of the manager of a brewery in a small Czech town. Maryska’s husband Francin is a nice person, he works hard and he loves her very much. He is also quiet and in some ways old-fashioned, though he tries to change himself to be a better companion to her. Maryska is cool, stylish, flamboyant, likes enjoying life. She and her husband contrast each other in a huge way, but they love each other very much. In this context, each chapter in the book describes an event in their lives, what happens in the brewery, what happens when Francin’s brother Uncle Peppin comes visiting, what happens when Francin visits Prague and gets Maryska a present – these and other stories are narrated in each chapter. Each of them could be read individually as an independent story, or they could be read together as a series of interlinked short stories or as a novel. Maryska is a charming, adorable character and is almost childlike and we can’t stop falling in love with her. One of my favourite scenes in the story is when Maryska inspires some grownups to behave like children and other grown-ups frown at this behaviour, but the childlike behaviour is infectious, and before long, all the grown-ups become children. It is one of my favourite scenes in the book. Francin is a quiet person but very likeable and his love for his wife is so beautiful to see. When Uncle Peppin comes on the scene, the story is filled with rip-roaring laughter – it is hard not to laugh aloud looking at Uncle Peppin’s antics and listening to his wild, unbelievable stories. Maryska and Uncle Peppin become friends and the kind of adventures they get upto make us laugh aloud.

There are many beautiful scenes in the story starting from the first chapter which describes the beauty of lighting lamps in the evening. Some of the most beautiful passages are those in which Maryska describes her hair – when the hair dresser combs it, when her hair flows in the wind.

I loved ‘Cutting it Short’. It is a slim novella at around a hundred pages, but a very pleasurable read. I don’t think I have read many Czech books – I can think of only ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’ by Milan Kundera and ‘Don Juan : The Life and Death of Don Miguel de Manara’ by Josef Toman. So I am very happy to read my third Czech book. I can’t wait to read my next Bohumil Hrabal book.

Have you read ‘Cutting it Short’? What do you think about it?

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