Vita Nuova: A Novel Paperback – May 29 2010
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About the Author
Bohumil hrabal (191497) is considered, along with Karel C.apek and Milan Kundera,
to be one of the great Czech writers of the twentieth century. He won international
acclaim for the novels Closely Watched Trains (Northwestern, 1995), Too Loud a Solitude
(1992), and I Served the King of England (1989).
Tony Liman was born in Czechoslovakia in 1966 and grew up in Toronto. He received
his M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia. He is a writer and translator, and
his fiction has appeared in several Canadian literary journals. Liman lives in Vancouver,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hrabal is never named in the book -- it is ostensibly a novel, not an autobiography. Pipsi refers to him as "my husband," and his friends call him "the doctor" on account of the law degree he received prior to WWII. The war, of course, figures prominently here, though only as a shell-shocked echo in the lives of Pipsi and the doctor. However, the book never descends into grimness or bitterness, as the doctor is full of zest for life, an elemental creature that's half man, half child. Hrabal's genius is picking his wife as the narrator -- this gives him the opportunity to really look at himself from an ironic distance, and his love of water, fire and beer, his moodiness, his habit of proclaiming bawdy stories loudly while in public, his constant pub-goings and other quirks of character are all related through his wife's by turn adulatory, loving, horrified, ashamed, disgusted, forgiving voice. Think of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses, but funnier and more coherent. And speaking of voice, there are no commas or periods in Vita Nuova, only the occasional ellipsis, though Hrabal does use caps to designate new sentences. At first this was a bit hard to read, but after a few pages, I appreciated this stylistic quirk because it lent the writing an amazing fluidity.
Hrabal is not well known in the U.S., and it's a shame. I'm a big reader, and have just "discovered" him after decades of heavy reading. Two films have already been made from his books, and he is extremely well-respected in Europe. Stylistically interesting even in English translations, extremely funny and able to reach deep emotional depths, he deserves to be widely read and appreciated. Forget Kundera and read Hrabal instead. I know I will be picking up every translated work as it gets published.