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Closely Observed Trains (Abacus Books) [Paperback]

Bohumil Hrabal
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
Price: £7.19 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

5 April 1990 Abacus Books

For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the small but strategic railway station in Bohemia in 1945 is full of complex preoccupations. There is the exacting business of dispatching German troop trains to and from the toppling Eastern front; the problem of ridding himself of his burdensome innocence; and the awesome scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka's gross misuse of the station's official stamps upon the telegraphist's anatomy. Beside these, Milos's part in the plan for the ammunition train seems a simple affair.

CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, which became the award-winning Jiri Menzel film of the 'Prague Spring', is a classic of postwar literature, a small masterpiece of humour, humanity and heroism which fully justifies Hrabal's reputation as one of the best Czech writers of today.

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Closely Observed Trains (Abacus Books) + The Little Town Where Time Stood Still + Too Loud A Solitude
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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (5 April 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349101256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349101255
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A superb writer (Julian Barnes)

A poignant, humorous tale (NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)

One of the most authentic incarnations of magical Prague; an incredible union of earthy humour and baroque imagination ... What is unique about Hrabal is his capacity for joy (MILAN KUNDERA)

Book Description

*The greatest novel by one of the greatest of all Czech writers.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Moving.......... 22 Feb 2006
In spite of their brevity, I think that Bohumil Hrabal's books are deeply beautiful. There are numerous reasons for this relating to the clear, concise and almost poetic nature of his prose, but I think that the main reason is that his books reflect an outlook or an attitude towards life that revels in the simple and profound beauty of human idiosyncracy.
I've heard it said that some believe Hrabal's books to be untranslatable - so I can only imagine what it must be like reading them in Czech!
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
It is hard to think of anywhere in literature where there is a hero more astonishing- or more innocent- than Milos Hrma. In a world where innocent pleasures are set against a backdrop of appalling brutality, young Milos survives- albeit reluctantly- by the purity with which he lives. While his employer, Station Master Lansky, an apparently comic figure, rings the necks of his Nuremburg doves in response to German massacres of the Poles, Milos drifts through several profound rites of passage without even noticing them. This is Hrabal at his best: capturing the universal through the specific, showing the terrible with great innocence. A book that leaves you feeling you've lived a life.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Story 2 July 2004
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Observed Trains is a beautiful book whose lingering impact on the reader is greater than one would suspect from looking at its slight length. It is the story of a young man, Milos Hrma, an apprentice signalman in a Czech village railway station during WWII. The term closely "watched trains" refers to German military (soldiers, prisoners, and munitions) trains that must be watched, tracked closely to ensure a smooth passage. Failure results in close (and often deadly) scrutiny by the Gestapo. As the story it unfolds that young Milos had recently attempted suicide after his first sexual experience ends disastrously. The scars on his wrist reflect the internal scars and humiliation suffered as a result of his sexual failure. The rest of the book focuses on his desire to achieve manhood, by means of a successful sexual conquest or through some "other" means. Milos' quest is ultimately successful yet with tragic consequences. An act of simple heroism marks the story's climax. Along the way Milos has a near fatal encounter with a Gestapo officer after an incident involving a closely watched train. The understated description of this encounter is a brilliant piece of writing as the officer and Milos closely watch each other's scars before the officer decides to spare his life. The above summary does not do justice to the concise, sparse tone of Hrabal's prose that conveys great depths of meaning in the course of the story's simple narrative.
This is a beautiful story, beautifully told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of writing and a brave one 7 Nov 2011
By J C E Hitchcock TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Hrabal's short novella "Closely Observed Trains" is set in a railway station in a small town in Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1945. Although the war is coming to an end, the country is still under German occupation, and the book's title refers to the special military trains which need to be kept under close guard as they travel to the front.

The central character, Milos Hrma, is a young apprentice traffic controller, and the opening scenes of the book tend towards the comic, as Milos describes the attempts of his colleagues to get on with their everyday lives, seemingly oblivious to the historic events taking place around them. Milos's boss, Station-Master Lansky, is a ridiculous figure, obsessed with promoting himself both in the social hierarchy (he lays claim to aristocratic lineage) and in the hierarchy of the Czech railway system. Despite his eagerness for promotion, however, he pays more attention to his hobby of pigeon breeding than he does to the requirements of his job. Lansky's subordinate, Dispatcher Hubicka, is equally neglectful of his duties, although his main obsession is pursuing women; he is facing disciplinary proceedings for the offence of misusing Government property by using the station's official stamps to decorate the backside of an attractive young female telegraphist.

As the story progresses, it takes on a darker tone. We learn that Milos has recently returned to work after three months in hospital following an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. The cause of this attempt was depression brought on by impotence and his inability to consummate his relationship with his girlfriend.
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