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I Served The King Of England [Paperback]

Bohumil Hrabal
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jan 2006
Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, I Served the King of England is a story of how the unbelievable came true. Its remarkable hero, Ditie, is a hotel waiter who rises to become a millionaire and then loses it all again against the backdrop of events in Prague from the German invasion to the victory of Communism. Ditie's fantastic journey intertwines the political and the personal in a narrative that both enlightens and entertains.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New edition edition (5 Jan 2006)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 009949289X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099492894
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 814,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'The fantasising and storytelling deliver a body blow of total irreverence to the solemn mythopoeia of monumental historiography' Times Literary Supplement


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'Our very best writer today' Milan Kundera

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Left Me Feeling Mixed Up 2 Oct 2009
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I Served The King of England is the tale of Ditie who at a young age starts the only career path available as a waiter in the Golden Prague Hotel (which isn't actually in Prague) and then follow his life as he goes from servant to served and becomes a millionaire. In the process we see through his eyes how the rich Czech people live leading up to the war, a life of gluttony and prostitutes in the main (the book is quite explicit for the delicate of mind out there) and then the change as war reigns and the German's come and take over.

I actually found that when the Germans invaded in some ways the book really came to life. Ditie becomes a German sympathiser, something not written about in many books which is very interesting if occasionally difficult to read, after he falls in love with and after being approved by the relevant bodies marries. This book for me was fantastically written and was darkly comic and the book sort of came alive after the first half of the book which seemed to just follow Ditie as he went about his daily business and observed all these rich people and became obsessed with joining them.

What of the plot? It's very much a straight forward, though quirky, rags to riches and back to rags tale. That isn't giving too much away as it is written on the blurb and there are a few random twists and events (dark and deeply funny) along the way. What about characters? There is a plethora of characters cast in this book but you never really get to know them they may pop up again from time to time but what motivates them and who they are eludes you slightly and I felt that could also be added to the main character himself.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight from start to end 31 July 2006
A superbly gifted linguist, Hrabal had a unique and almost untranslatable way with his language - dubbed "Hrabalovstina" by his contemporaries - but this English translation of arguably his best work is absolutely perfect. It follows the comic capers of Ditie as he struggles against class and expectation in Nazi-occupied Prague. Tender and brash, this is a novel of countless wonderful intricacies.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rise, Fall, Redemption of a 'Little' Man 23 July 2004
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Bohumil Hrabal's I Served the King of England is a beautiful, sparse, simply told story about a little man named Ditie. Ditie is a little man in the sense that he is small in stature. He is also little in the sense that he is merely a waiter, a little man who wanders blithely through the critical historical events that buffeted Czechoslovakia between 1935 and 1950 or so.
As the novel opens Ditie is a busboy at the Golden Prague Hotel. On his first day the hotel manager pulls him by the left ear to advise him to "remember, you don't see anything and you don't hear anything." The manager then pulls him by the right ear and tells him that he has "to see everything and hear everything." Ditie manages to learn how to accomplish this seemingly irreconcilable task.
Ditie is an ambitious man whose ambitions focus on acquiring two things: money and 'sensuous' experiences. His life is otherwise void of conscious thought or awareness. In many respects Hrabal portrays him vividly as something less than a complete human being. He earns money on the side selling frankfurters at the local train station. He gains extra tips from passengers ordering frankfurters from the train by fumbling for change long enough for the train to pull out. He decides to become a millionaire after walking into a room to see a portly Czech salesman rolling around on a floor covered with money. Ditie's hunger for sensual experiences is fueled after his first visit to the local brothel, the aptly named Paradise. After his first visit Ditie vows to make so much money that he can continue to explore the delights found there. Hrabal's description of Ditie's introduction to the lure of money and flesh is both comic and delightful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Il faut cultiver notre jardin 10 Nov 2011
By J C E Hitchcock TOP 1000 REVIEWER
"I Served the King of England" is not, as one might think, a novel about a devoted servant of the British Crown. Indeed, it is not about Britain at all. It is rather an account of the history of Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s as seen through the eyes of Jan Ditie, a hotel waiter. The title refers to another waiter, one of Ditie's colleagues, who is extremely proud of the fact that he did indeed once serve the King of England. Much of the first half of the novel deals with Ditie's rise from busboy to waiter to head waiter in a luxurious Prague hotel, where he too gets to serve royalty in the person of the Emperor of Ethiopia. (I use the Americanism "busboy", even though it is rarely heard in Britain, because it seems to me that we do not have any precisely equivalent term). I did not find this part of the book particularly interesting, as it consists of little more than a picaresque series of Ditie's moderately amusing anecdotes about his life in the catering trade, interspersed with some satirical passages at the expense of the gluttonous, avaricious and lustful Czech bourgeoisie of the pre-war years. It should be noted, however, that the proletarian Ditie fully shares their characteristics, especially lustfulness, as he spends most of his earnings on the services of prostitutes.

The novel becomes more interesting, and Hrabal's satire more biting, after the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia in 1938/39. Ditie does not allow this event to disturb his complacent lifestyle, but rather welcomes it because he has fallen in love with an attractive German woman named Lise, who is in good standing with the Nazi party, and he sees marriage to her as a way of helping himself to rise in the world.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A product of the mixed-up Sixties
Though I loved Hrabal's other books, I was taken aback at this roller-coaster ride that in retrospect seems a typical product of the late Sixties, when it was written. Read more
Published 3 months ago by R. K. Ltd
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine original writer
Hrabal was a new name to me after seeing the film version of Closely Watched Trains. The story takes us through the experiences of a young Czech man working in hotels and the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Scott Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth a Read
I found this book riveting. It's an account of the life of a character whom I found very sympathetic - a waiter who aspires to own his own hotel, then does and later loses it all. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Val
3.0 out of 5 stars Too deep for me
I try always to finish a book but this was hard work. Clearly a lot went over my head but I suspect I'm not alone. Read more
Published on 5 Jan 2009 by Peter Stephenson
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This reads like an explosion of thoughts rolling across the pages, which draws the reader in right from the start. Read more
Published on 20 Oct 2008 by David Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars "I was always lucky in my bad luck."
First published and distributed secretly during the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, this tragicomic novel by Bohumil Hrabal is a first-person account by Ditie, a teenage busboy at a rural... Read more
Published on 3 July 2007 by Mary Whipple
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best book I ever read
Having been offered this book I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea who the author was or what the book was about. Read more
Published on 24 Feb 2003 by Norberto Amaral
5.0 out of 5 stars JUST WONDERFUL
Having visited the Czech Republic twice this year, it was a real treat to come across Hrabal for the first time. Read more
Published on 18 July 2002 by david denton
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful, written by a true master
Hrabal can do everything, and this has most everything in it. Witty, complex, just perfect. it works on many many levels, and puts much modern "western" european writing... Read more
Published on 3 Dec 2000
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