I Served the King of England

( 6 )


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

First published in 1971 in a typewritten edition, then finally printed in book form in 1989, I Served the King of ...

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I Served the King of England (New Directions Classic)

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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

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Czech history is satirized through this pseudo-memoir of Ditie, a waiter whose political ideology changes for the worse out of love for a Nazi gym teacher. PW found that ``Hrabal's depiction of post-WW II Czechoslovakia is unrealistically rosy, and Ditie's moral transformation is not entirely persuasive. But the novel is always witty, often wise, and sparkles in Wilson's beautiful translation.'' Dec.
Library Journal
Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, this excellently translated novel by a major Czech writer brings into sharp focus the grotesque absurdities of recent Czech history. Dittie, a busboy with an inferiority complex and a driving ambition to become a millionaire, quickly rises to become a head waiter, but the respect he craves continues to allude him. When he marries a Nazi gym teacher, the Czechs despise him even more, while the Germans barely tolerate him. Rare stamps taken from wealthy Jews make his dream come true after the war, but his first-class hotel is soon nationalized by the Communists and he ends his life in poverty and isolation writing his memoirs. As is typical of Hrabal's work (e.g., Closely Watched Trains , LJ 2/1/69), the novel is full of zany characters whose antics range from supremely entertaining to bizarrely tragic. Highly recommended.-- Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811216876
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 5/31/2007
  • Series: New Directions Classic Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 298,161
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was born in Moravia and started writing poems under the influence of French surrealism. In the early
1950s he began to experiment with a stream-of-consciousness style, and eventually wrote such classics as I Served the King of England, Closely Watched Trains (made into an Academy Award-winning film directed by Jiri Menzel), The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2005

    Funny, bittersweet personal narrative of Czech man in turbulent times

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2002

    Fit for a King

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2002

    not the king

    its worth reading but once

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2014

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