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Bohumil Hrabal, I served the King of England

Czech novel written in the 70s after the oppression of the Prague Spring by Bohumil Hrabal

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Uncle Scrooge and Uncle Joe

  • Jun 23, 2009
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Some people think this is a comedy. We could laugh ourselves to death. What this is: a frog perspective tale of history in a servant country. Its sense of humor is exuberant, eccentric, depressing and altogether unfunny.

The writer has been called a mixture of Hasek, Kundera, Murakami. I might add Grass: our narrator, the diminutive waiter, is a distant cousin of the tin drummer. But Oskar Matzerath is also quite different, you can take him at face value, he tells you the ‘truth'. Not so the man here.

The narrator makes a career through various positions in the restaurant/hotel/brothel industry: busboy, waiter, head waiter, finally hotel owner. He lives through the regime changes from pre WW2 democracy to Nazi occupation to post WW2 democracy to Soviet satellite.

The narrator notices next to nothing of those things. He is only interested in cash and sex and status. The biggest disappointment in his life comes when the communists neglect to recognize the millionaire in him and fail to tax him accordingly.

Hrabal's view of his country is so dark, there is hardly any redeeming feature. No wonder, he wrote it in the post spring years in the early 70s, when all hope seemed lost. His country had been a lackey to the Western powers, the midwives of its birth out of Kakania's corpse, in the past, then a victim of German and Russian oppression. A good servant adjusts to the fancies of the boss. Hrabal has little love for his countrymen in this bitter book. The waiter is a metaphor for the lack of character of the people. But then, if you wish you can decide to read it as a picaresque tale of orgies and absurdities.

A disclaimer: I have myself no negative view on the honest occupation of service industries at all. Obviously, Hrabal looks at things from a different angle.

My conclusion here: a brilliant book that I can't manage to like. I need to have a look at Jiri Menzel's film, to see if he put something into it or took something out of it that I overlooked.

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December 24, 2009
Unfunny sense of humour ... agreed. Can't manage to like it ... agreed. I just don't understand why then you would choose to categorize it as brilliant. But, as always, different books represent different things to different people. Nice review, Helmut.
More I served the King of England reviews
review by . December 24, 2009
On a recent vacation to Prague, I asked the proprietor of a local English language bookstore to recommend a novel that would be a good souvenir of my visit to Prague. She enthusiastically recommended "I Served the King of England" which she characterized as a comedic satire and added the guarantee that I would be sure to love it ... wrong!       The story takes place in Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1950 during the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Czechoslovakia …
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About this book


 Chronicles the experiences of Ditie, who rises from busboy to hotel owner in World War II Prague, and whose life is shaped by the fate of his country before, during, and after the conflict.
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Books, World War Ii, Czech Republic, Nazis, Eastern European Fiction, History Of Central Europe, Communists, Social Satire


ISBN-10: 081121687X (pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780811216876 (pbk.)
Author: Bohumil Hrabal
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: New Directions
Date Published: May 31, 2007
Format: Original title: Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále. Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson
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