Hrabal, Bohumil

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Hrabal, Bohumil,

1914–97, one of the most important and popular Czech writers of the 20th cent., b. Brünn, Austria-Hungary (now Brno, Czech Republic). After working at a number of jobs, he became a professional writer in 1962, first winning recognition for his wryly amusing, anecdotal, and mildly surreal short stories collected in Pearls of the Deep (1963), Palaverers (1964, tr. 1966), and The Death of Mr. Baltisberger (1966, tr. 1975). Employing rich and descriptive prose that often digresses, his works, whether tales or novels, are usually about and narrated by working-class social misfits, simpletons who are at times unintentionly profound. Though marked by tragic circumstances, his fiction is also slyly and joyfully comic. Enormously popular during the Prague Spring, his books were banned after the Soviet invasion and then circulated by underground publication or in smuggled copies until the end of Communist rule (1989). Among his best-known novels is Closely Watched Trains (1964, tr. 1995), the story of a young railway apprentice during the Nazi occupation; Hrabal cowrote the screenplay for the 1966 film (Academy Award, best foreign film). Other novels include Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, (1964, tr. 1995, 2011), a rambling life story told by an elderly roué in one book-length sentence; I Served the King of England (1971, tr. 1990; film, 2008); The Little Town Where Time Stood Still (1982, tr. 1993); and Vita Nuova (1986, tr. 2010). Hrabal also wrote poetry and other screenplays.