Total Fears: Selected Letters to Dubenka
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In these letters written to April Gifford (Dubenka) between 1989 and 1991 but never sent, Bohumil Hrabal (1914-97) chronicles the momentous events of those years as seen, more often than not, from the windows of his favorite pubs. In his palavering, stream-of-conscious style that has marked him as one of the major writers and innovators of postwar European literature, Hrabal gives a humorous and at times moving account of life in Prague under Nazi occupation, Communism, and the brief euphoria following the revolution of 1989 when anything seemed possible, even pink tanks. Interspersed are fragmented memories of trips taken to Britain — as he attempted to track down every location mentioned in Eliot’s “The Waste Land” — and the United States, where he ends up in one of Dylan Thomas’s haunts comparing the waitresses to ones he knew in Prague. The result is a masterful blend of personal history and fee association rendered in a prose as powerful as it is poetic.
notebook with me everywhere in my head ... when I ask, how’s life? – it’s as if they’ve already rehearsed this poem of theirs, their life’s credo ... Life? Morning suicidal, work till midday, lunch at the canteen, afternoon I do more of the same old slog, then I’m back to the Myrtle, the Green Laboratory, I knock back one beer after another, nonstop, till the last one, and so on into the evening ... Christmas Eve ... morning suicidal ... and so on ... why is he telling me this, this drunkard of
much at night that it made the room hurt, where he dreamt about this blazing giraffe and Salvador Dalí’s paranoiac-critical method, he’d wanted to pour petrol over a giraffe at the zoo to see its mane catch fire, but he couldn’t reach up that high, so he’d lured over a trusting swan, and when it soared up blazing into the sky, he saw it rise to the zenith before it fell, he saw Salvador Dalí’s burning giraffe ... and the world stopped hurting, and he didn’t know how that image would strike me,
fire and bamboozling poor old Jan Palach, insisting nothing would happen to him, as Rudé právo asserted ... I took the zucchini seeds to the Golden Tiger, Dubenka, and I shared them with Mr Hrejsa – mine died, everything dies on me now, I dug up the potatoes too and they were small, suddenly fewer than last year ... but Mr Hrejsa’s been bringing me American zucchini every Monday – ten days ago he brought me a jar of cooked ones pickled with carrot, vinegar, and bay leaf, a jar with the date on
... And I close my eyes, and the fur sizzles out his scent, and Cassius probably knows, because all day he does nothing but clean himself, clean himself all over, just in case I happen to come and pick him up in my hand and press my face into his fur and speak tender words, like the ones I have said maybe only to you, Dubenka, and then only in spirit, but Cassius knows that I really do speak to him, he closes his eyes, his fuses go, and for a moment he looks quite dead ... Sometimes the sooty
The Firemen’s Ball is on now in Prague cinemas, and the young audiences shriek with laughter, bowled over by what they see on screen, as if that Forman film had been made only last year, specially for them ... Where are the times when our leading critical journalist Ladislav Mňačko would walk over the Charles Bridge with a beautiful girl, bearing a bunch of roses? – Mňačko, author of Delayed Reports and The Taste of Power, a handsome Slovak, who always knew how to dress well and wore smart ties –