I Served the King of England

I Served the King of England


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In a comic masterpiece following the misadventures of a simple but hugely ambitious waiter in pre-World War II Prague, who rises to wealth only to lose everything with the onset of Communism, Bohumil Hrabal takes us on a tremendously funny and satirical trip through 20th-century Czechoslovakia.

First published in 1971 in a typewritten edition, then finally printed in book form in 1989, I Served the King of England is "an extraordinary and subtly tragicomic novel" (The New York Times), telling the tale of Ditie, a hugely ambitious but simple waiter in a deluxe Prague hotel in the years before World War II. Ditie is called upon to serve not the King of England, but Haile Selassie. It is one of the great moments in his life. Eventually, he falls in love with a Nazi woman athlete as the Germans are invading Czechoslovakia. After the war, through the sale of valuable stamps confiscated from the Jews, he reaches the heights of his ambition, building a hotel. He becomes a millionaire, but with the institution of communism, he loses everything and is sent to inspect mountain roads. Living in dreary circumstances, Ditie comes to terms with the inevitability of his death, and with his place in history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811216876
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 05/31/2007
Series: New Directions Classic Series
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 217,047
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was born in Moravia. He is the author of such classics as Closely
Watched Trains (made into an Academy-Award winning film by Jiri Menzel), The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, I Served the King of England, and Too Loud a Solitude.

He fell to his death from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the pigeons.

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I Served the King of England 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
g026r on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
2.5 stars, as there's half a very good book here, and half a very bad one. To the book's detriment, the majority of the very bad book is all front-loaded. The first two (out of five) sections, which meander with no real purpose, could easily be excised entirely with little to no damage to the book. A reader who makes it all the way to the end wonders if Hrabal himself realized the weakness of the first two sections, as a passing comment by Ditie, the narrator, disparages how the book began.Things pick up once World War 2 starts, with the annexation, followed by liberation and rise of Communism in Czechoslovakia, but by then the damage to the narrative has been done. (Which isn't to say that there aren't still missteps, but by this point they're the exception — particularly the overly detailed sex scenes that pop up from time to time — rather than the rule.) A reader willing to slog through the first half of the book will be rewarded, but I'm not entirely certain it was worth it.
jahjahdub on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was in Sherborne, thinking about this book, about how I¿d been looking at it in Waterstones the week before, weighing it in my palm before deciding to leave it for another day. Ahead was a street market. One of the stalls had a selection of a couple of hundred books. This was one of them; it was fate, I bought it for £2.This fortuitous discovery, and my wistful romanticizing of Prague and the author (mainly from this photo), may have led to unrealistic expectations. I was really really ready to love this book.And for the first half, I did. Now, Europe east of Germany acts as this hemisphere¿s South America - when novels aren¿t magical realist there¿s always the feeling that they might go that way. Need I say that the story is against a backdrop of Czech history from the `30s through to the communist `50s? Do I have to mention that Dittie is a very small man? Comparisons with the Tin Drum are inevitable and obvious - next time someone talks about the Tin Drum say you've read this, and isn't it interesting that European literature responded to the Nazi past through stunted seducers? I don't have anything to add on the issue. I'd leave it hanging - you should too.The breaking out of war changes the novel. From erotic adventures in brothels we come to marriage with a Nazi. It was refreshing to have a character associating with the Germans, but from here on the novel seems to lose its coherence and become one damn thing after another.Hrabal was said to write in Hrabalov¿tina, a playful use of Czech and probably untranslatable. He did about enough for me to want to try another of his books: he still has my respect, but for now I¿m withholding my love.
thorold on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging picaresque tale of a waiter's rise and fall, set against the background of mid-20th century Czech history. There are obvious echoes of The Tin Drum; like Grass, he struggles a bit to keep up the momentum in the post-war section of the book. There are some wonderful images in the earlier chapters that come across very effectively even in Paul Wilson's rather stodgy (and very North American) translation. I suspect that the sense of anticlimax we get in the later chapters might have a lot to do with the difficulties of rendering Hrabal's apparently very individual style into English. Of course, the book was published (secretly) only three years after 1968, and the Soviet invasion, never mentioned, probably has a lot to do with the very pessimistic tone of the ending.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Generally speaking, I don't enjoy novels translated into English as much of the eloquence and humor is lost in translation. However, I really liked this book by Bohumil Hrabal (translated by Paul Wilson). Although the book is based on the rise and fall of a fictional person, the historical background is real enough. We trace the personal history of a young man named Dite (which means child in Czech). The story begins during Czechoslovakia's first republic, the nation's golden age. Dite is working as a lowly busboy, but he has dreams and is ambitious. We are with him when he loses his virginity at the local bordello and meets his first love. Dite, always on the lookout to improve his wealth and status, takes a new job at a very prestigious elite hotel, where he meets a whole host of fascinating characters. Unfortunately, he loses his job, but lands a new one at the swank Paris Hotel in Prague (still exists by the way). He falls in love with a Czech citizen of German ethnicity - unfortunately in 1938 when the Germans had seized the Sudetenland and some Czechs had become extremely hostile toward all ethnic Germans. (Czechs have a long history of being occupied/exploited and are consequently xenophobic.) His girlfriend Lise is attacked by an angry Czech group, and Dite seeths with anger. The tables are turned, however, when the German army occupies Prague later that year, and Dite and Lise are being served by now subservient Czechs. Dite, despite being Czech, is nominally accepted into the ethnic-German community. His life begins taking a surrealistic turn when he lives in a Nazi-designated breeding town, Decin. Though once passionately in love with Lise, they are drawn apart as the pressures of war and Nazi ideology separate them. Typically, despite this, they have a little boy, which Dite later discovers to be somewhat retarded. When the war comes crashing through Bohemia, Dite's life with Lise lies in ruins, and he is jailed first by the Nazis and then by the Czechs. After many months in prison, he is released and is determined to start a new life. Dite takes all the substantial savings he has accumulated over the years and invests it in a rather fantastic idea for a hotel. His idea takes off and is hugely successful. Unfortunately, fate deals him another cruel hand as the communists come to power in 1948. Inexplicably, he turns himself in to be imprisoned with all the other successful bourgeois hotel owners he has worked for. After his stint in a monastery prison, he is exiled to the now-depopulated Sudetenland to work as a roadkeeper on a road going nowhere. The beginning of the book is fun, racy, and exciting, but as the book continues it becomes more sober, introspective, and melancholic - much like the life of an average man I suppose. Hrabal does a wonderful job of bringing characters to life and revealing much of the humor and sadness of everyday Czech life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was better than I had exspected. This is a story of a young boy who traveled to so many different places serving food as a waiter and the way he spent his money. I couldnt believe some of the things I read, the part where he goes to the hor house; he was so young. At times the story drags on and on and the author at times goes to far into detail on items. I felt like I was on a roller coaster the book speeds up and then slows down, pulling you in with its outragous stories and then dropping you only to be the end and making you want more. Trust me even though at times boring the storys this boy goes through are unreal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
its worth reading but once