Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age

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by Bohumil Hrabal
     
 

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Rake, drunkard, aesthete, gossip, raconteur extraordinaire: the narrator of Bohumil Hrabal’s rambling, rambunctious masterpiece Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age is all these and more. Speaking to a group of sunbathing women who remind him of lovers past, this elderly roué tells the story of his life—or at least unburdens himself of a

Overview

Rake, drunkard, aesthete, gossip, raconteur extraordinaire: the narrator of Bohumil Hrabal’s rambling, rambunctious masterpiece Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age is all these and more. Speaking to a group of sunbathing women who remind him of lovers past, this elderly roué tells the story of his life—or at least unburdens himself of a lifetime’s worth of stories. Thus we learn of amatory conquests (and humiliations), of scandals both private and public, of military adventures and domestic feuds, of what things were like “in the days of the monarchy” and how they’ve changed since. As the book tumbles restlessly forward, and the comic tone takes on darker shadings, we realize we are listening to a man talking as much out of desperation as from exuberance.

Hrabal, one of the great Czech writers of the twentieth century, as well as an inveterate haunter of Prague’s pubs and football stadiums, developed a unique method which he termed “palavering,” whereby characters gab and soliloquize with abandon. Part drunken boast, part soul-rending confession, part metaphysical poem on the nature of love and time, this astonishing novel (which unfolds in a single monumental sentence) shows why he has earned the admiration of such writers as Milan Kundera, John Banville, and Louise Erdrich.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The unnamed narrator of this comic rant proclaims that any book worth its salt is ``meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out.'' Czech novelist Hrabal (Closely Watched Trains) very nearly fills that peculiar bill in this humorous and breathless affair, which is told in one never-ending sentence-a technique that just may make readers pay him the ultimate compliment by looking around for handy blunt objects. The narrator, a scurrilous old man who claims to have been a shoemaker and a brewer, approaches six sunbathing women and embarks on a rambling monologue about his past loves, the past in general and his ``magic hands for what we called contessa shoes.'' He enjoys telling scandalous tales about his betters, including the one about the old emperor looking up women's skirts. Hrabal, who has been cited as a major literary influence by Milan Kundera and Ivan Klma, among others, is generally considered the most revered living Czech author. It's easy to see why. As this novel (originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1964) plays around with Czech history, juxtaposing the public life of the country with the private life of the narrator, Hrabal displays abounding energy and a rambunctious wit. (Sept.)
Brad Hooper
Hrabal, one of the foremost contemporary Czech writers, has devised a provocative little novel for special readers. In a breathless monologue--in fact, in one unbroken sentence--an old shoemaker spouts off to a captive audience of young women about his life and ideas. From political history ("his son, the crown prince, was forced to marry Princess Stephanie of Belgium, but he was wild for Vetsera's body, she had these gigantic breasts and eyes" ) to morality ("Christ wanted us to love our neighbors, he wanted discipline, not love on the sofa the way some mealy-brained idiots would have it" ), the old man perambulates over a wide range of territory, spreading recollections and opinions far and wide. For readers who appreciate language for its own sake, this short book is fertile ground; for those who need a firm plot as anchorage, they had best turn elsewhere. For active foreign-literature collections.
From the Publisher
“Hrabal, to my mind, is one of the greatest living European prose writers.” —Philip Roth, 1990

Dancing Lessons unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence. The gambit works. Something about that slab of wordage carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.” —Ed Park, The New York Times Book Review

“. . . what Hrabal has created is an informal history of the indomitable Czech spirit. And perhaps. . . the human spirit.” —The Times (London)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590175569
Publisher:
New York Review Books
Publication date:
04/25/2012
Series:
New York Review Books Classics Series
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
826,464
File size:
167 KB

Meet the Author

Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) was born in Brno, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. More interested in poetry and the life of the brewery managed by his stepfather than in his studies, Hrabal eventually enrolled in the law faculty at Charles University in Prague. The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 led to the closing of the universities and Hrabal did not complete his degree until 1946. Not inclined to practice law and unable to find a publisher for his poetry once the Communist Party came to power in 1948, Hrabal held a long series of odd jobs, including notary’s clerk, warehouseman, railroad worker, insurance agent, traveling salesman, foreman in a foundry, wastepaper recycling center worker, and stagehand. In 1962 he became a full-time writer, but due to government restrictions was obliged to publish much of his work in underground editions or abroad. The motion-picture adaptation of his novella Closely Watched Trains brought Hrabal international recognition, including the 1967 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, but only in 1976 was he “rehabilitated” by the government and permitted to publish select works. By the time of his death—he fell from a fifth-floor window in a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the birds—Hrabal was one of the world’s most famous Czech writers and the author of nearly fifty books. Among his other works available in English translation are The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, I Served the King of England, and Too Loud a Solitude.

Adam Thirlwell is the author of two novels, Politics and The Escape; and an essay on novels, The Delighted States. He lives in London.

Michael Henry Heim is a professor of Slavic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago