The Book Beat reading group selection for November is I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal. The Reading Group will meet on Wednesday, November 30 at 7pm in the Goldfish Tea Room (117 W 4th St #101, Royal Oak, MI 48067). Reading Group selections are discounted 15% at Book Beat. For more information, please call (248) 968-1190. All are welcome!
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.
“Flipping through the book, you’ll find little white space. Paragraph breaks occur so infrequently you might mistake them for typographical errors. But fear not, dear reader! Hrabal’s prose appears to possess black-hole densities, but if you allow yourself to be sucked in, you’ll enter a story so ethereal you’ll practically float.” —Anthony Marra NPR review
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.