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Closely Observed Trains (Abacus Books) Paperback – 5 Apr 1990

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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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: 13.3 x 0.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 122,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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By Lonya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 July 2004
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on 4 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't quite remember how this book ended up in my shopping basket, but I can recall the dismay I felt when I unpacked the flimsy volume. £5 seemed a lot to pay for 90 pages. This material view soon dissipated when I actually started to read the book. I often read books far too quickly and this can mean that I miss out words to keep the pages turning. With this book, every word is worth savouring. Not a single word is wasted. In 90-odd pages, Hrabal creates a compelling, humourous world tinged throughout with, as another reviewer said, poingnancy. Wonderful - a book to savour.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a Round the World Book Group Selection. I didn't try to define Hrabal as being either Czech or Slovak since the book was written before they went their separate ways, and the events take place in what was then Czechoslovakia. The great unanswered question for me is "Does the narrator die on the last page or not?" This book shows the ultimate futility and waste of war in many places, of which one is in the approach of the narrator to the dying German, even though he ends up killing him. There is a comic scene with the pigeons while the stationmaster is telling the story of the stamps, and then with the countess. There is the stated, closely observed, horror of the beasts in the wagons, in comparison with the unstated horror of the forced starvation of those from whom they were stolen. This was a deliberate policy, and there was no attempt to ensure that the beasts reached slaughter in a state fit to eat. Dresden fire bombing etc. Watch the film if you get the chance.
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