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I Served The King Of England Paperback – 5 Jan 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New edition edition (5 Jan. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009949289X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099492894
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 984,975 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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Simon Savidge Reads on 2 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
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 By GRBD on 31 July 2006
Format: Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on 10 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
"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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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 23 July 2004
Format: Paperback
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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