Hot Best Seller

Closely Watched Trains

Availability: Ready to download

Bohumil Hrabal's post-war classic about a young man's coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Miloš Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains Bohumil Hrabal's post-war classic about a young man's coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Miloš Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains fly by, he torments himself with the suspicion that he himself is being watched and with fears of impotency. Hrma finally affirms his manhood and, with a sense of peace and purpose he has never known before, heroically confronts a trainload of Nazis. Milan Kundera called the novel "an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination." After receiving acclaim as a novel, Closely Watched Trains was made into an internationally successful film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 1967. This edition includes a foreword by Josef Škvorecký.


Compare

Bohumil Hrabal's post-war classic about a young man's coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Miloš Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains Bohumil Hrabal's post-war classic about a young man's coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Miloš Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains fly by, he torments himself with the suspicion that he himself is being watched and with fears of impotency. Hrma finally affirms his manhood and, with a sense of peace and purpose he has never known before, heroically confronts a trainload of Nazis. Milan Kundera called the novel "an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination." After receiving acclaim as a novel, Closely Watched Trains was made into an internationally successful film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 1967. This edition includes a foreword by Josef Škvorecký.

30 review for Closely Watched Trains

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    A couple of months ago, I bought this slim volume at the Globe Bookstore and Cafe in Prague on the last afternoon of a 9-day school tour with my 15-year old daughter and several of her classmates. We had perhaps 45 minutes in which to identify purchases, enjoy beverages, split a salad, and read passages to each other from the books we selected. At the time, I shared with her portions of one of the other books I bought, and saved this one until now. I will remember that afternoon, the Globe and A couple of months ago, I bought this slim volume at the Globe Bookstore and Cafe in Prague on the last afternoon of a 9-day school tour with my 15-year old daughter and several of her classmates. We had perhaps 45 minutes in which to identify purchases, enjoy beverages, split a salad, and read passages to each other from the books we selected. At the time, I shared with her portions of one of the other books I bought, and saved this one until now. I will remember that afternoon, the Globe and the time we spent in each other's company in Prague for some time to come. Closely Observed Trains takes place in Czechoslovakia near the end of WWII. First published in 1965 and one of Hrabal's best known novels, it is part coming-of-age, part war-is-hell, part fantastic. The first 80 pages reminded me of many, unremembered and unremarkable classics I've read through the years. The last five pages are unforgettable. This book is a 4-star read for me, in part, because, on every page, I recalled our time together in Prague and was grateful again for the opportunity to walk its streets, begin to appreciate its rich history and still recent experience of war and occupation, and to spend that time with my daughter. I will look for more Hrabal novels.

  2. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    A Noir Farce. In the closing months of WW II in provincial Czech, the social system of the national railways copes with the German military, allied raids, and the sexual fetishes of the local dispatcher. Amidst the detritus of war - dead and dying live-stock, wrecked railway carriages, crashed fighter planes, the dead and wounded returning from the front - the station-master's concern is principally the well-being of his Polish pigeons and the sanctity of his Turkish-themed office. But an A Noir Farce. In the closing months of WW II in provincial Czech, the social system of the national railways copes with the German military, allied raids, and the sexual fetishes of the local dispatcher. Amidst the detritus of war - dead and dying live-stock, wrecked railway carriages, crashed fighter planes, the dead and wounded returning from the front - the station-master's concern is principally the well-being of his Polish pigeons and the sanctity of his Turkish-themed office. But an undercurrent is also clear: 'The Germans are swine but they're our swine and they will be victorious and we will have a Free Europe' is the attitude of one German-speaking official. Resistance takes place but only about as casually as collaboration. Closely Watched Trains was first published in 1965 while Czechoslovakia was united and Communist. Soviet tanks were to roll through within three years during the Prague Spring. The theme of keeping one's head down with the dominant force must have caused a stir despite the black comedy that dominates the book. What is important to all the characters is really not the outcome of the war, or even whether German or Czech is the official national language, but the experience of their own lives. Or inexperience, as the case may be. A young man's sexual inadequacy, a young woman's hopes of cinematic stardom, organisational advancement, the disciplinary process of the railways. Life, in other words, goes on, petty details are important even, perhaps especially, in the midst of chaos. Ultimately Hrabal's pointed irony is probably the only way to deal with the powerlessness in such an overwhelming condition.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Gratitude and Trigger Warnings Im profoundly grateful for the wonderful books Ive discovered from the inspirational reviews of my GR friends, including Hrabals Too Loud a Solitude (see my 5* review HERE, and my shelf of friends reccs HERE). I try to avoid reading reviews shortly before I read a book, not for fear of spoilers (my friends tend to avoid or hide those), but so their thoughts dont frame my own reaction. In this case, it would have been better if I had. It was not the right time for me Gratitude and Trigger Warnings I’m profoundly grateful for the wonderful books I’ve discovered from the inspirational reviews of my GR friends, including Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude (see my 5* review HERE, and my shelf of friends’ reccs HERE). I try to avoid reading reviews shortly before I read a book, not for fear of spoilers (my friends tend to avoid or hide those), but so their thoughts don’t frame my own reaction. In this case, it would have been better if I had. It was not the right time for me to read about a suicide survivor, but I had no idea until I was part way through. “I couldn’t recognise myself, I was looking for my own face but it wasn't there, as if I’d become someone else.” Thoughts after leaving hospital. Image: Miloš looking in the mirror, from 1966 film (which I’ve not seen) (Source.) There’s bawdy humour, beauty, and poignancy on these pages. It’s not primarily a depressing book, nor even one that focuses on suicidal ideation (though the attempt is described in oddly beautiful detail). Nevertheless, it compounded my lack of connection with Miloš Hrma and engagement with the story he told. Infer nothing from my 3*: I was unable to rate it objectively. Watching and Being Watched It’s set during WW2, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Miloš is a 22-year old trainee station guard (“despatcher”), where the “close surveillance” trains rumble through. He’s ever aware of being watched, and often mentions eyes. Of the refugees from the bombing of Dresden, he says: “Not one of them blinked, as though the horror had cut off their eyelids”, whereas the eyes of cows heading for slaughter were “full of curiosity and grief”. What Makes a Man? “I was man enough until it came to the point of being a man.” This is a bildungsroman, covering a short period of a troubled young man’s life. His family are not particularly popular in the small town. He’s terribly naive in sexual matters (catching a colleague in flagrante, he doesn't realise what he’s seen!), and describes his putative girlfriend, Masha, in fond and admiring terms, but not really sexual ones. Unsurprisingly, fumbled intimacy beneath a photographer’s studio sign saying “Finished in five minutes” haunts him. The solutions are comical and perhaps a little shocking. What Radicalises? (view spoiler)[In 2019, we’re becoming used to the word incel to describe a young man whose sexual frustration festers into a toxic and sometimes literally explosive mix of hatred against women, minorities, authority, and the world in general. It’s the lack of sex that triggers abuse and mass shootings - a way to enforce their potency in a different way. But sometimes the opposite is true: “I should have the opportunity of doing something great, for I was no wilting lily now.” The ending is shocking, beautiful, heartbreaking, inevitable, ambiguous (and I gather it’s rather different in the film): “He was a man, too. Like me… he hadn’t any distinction or rank, and yet we had shot each other to death, although surely if we could have met somewhere in civil life we might well have liked each other.” (hide spoiler)] Image: Miloš and probably Hubička or the station master, from 1966 film (which I’ve not seen) (Source.) From Kafka, through Hrabal, to Barker “They were doing their utmost to dredge up a realistic basis for a criminal charge of infringing personal liberty.” The farcical disciplinary hearing is slightly Kafkaesque, though the person concerned knows what he’s accused of (and knows his guilt). The greater similarity is with Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine (see my 4* review HERE) in the way seemingly ordinary sensations are described in minute detail: a plane breaking up and crashing, the varied sounds of trains rumbling through, a glint of light on prismatic snow crystals, blood dispersing in water, or the feel of fabric on the skin as you tighten an item with shiny buttons. Quotes • “In every crystal of snow there seemed to be an infinitely tiny second hand ticking, the snow crackled so in the brilliant sunlight, shimmering in many colours.” • “It seemed strange to me that both these SS men were beautiful.” • “I always had a horror of beautiful people.” • “In a corner there was an unlaced military boot grinning at me with its tongue lolling out.” • “The stars were palpitating in the sky.” • “I had been predestined for another death than the one I had attempted.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Milan Kundera brought me here, and I'm so glad that he did. This novella, which I knew little about beforehand, other than it obviously featured trains, exceeded my expectations in just about every way possible. In a darkly comic tone, which moved from being relatively bleak one minute, to warm and almost chucklesome the next, Hrabal shows just why he left a big mark on European post-war literature, and helped influence many other writers in the process. Miloš Hrma, an innocent, slightly hapless Milan Kundera brought me here, and I'm so glad that he did. This novella, which I knew little about beforehand, other than it obviously featured trains, exceeded my expectations in just about every way possible. In a darkly comic tone, which moved from being relatively bleak one minute, to warm and almost chucklesome the next, Hrabal shows just why he left a big mark on European post-war literature, and helped influence many other writers in the process. Miloš Hrma, an innocent, slightly hapless young individual, is a railway dispatcher and signalman working at a Czech station in the mid 40s, and much of the narrative is an account of his misadventures doing his job, and trying to lose his virginity, something which caused him great embarrassment in the past leading him to attempt suicide. It's not everyday you come across a book featuring death, explosions, Nazis, cows and horses, premature ejaculation, and lines such as “The curse of this erotic century! Everything’s saturated with sex, nothing but sex and erotic stimulants!”. But that's what made this so great. It's borderline farcical at times, but still ashen and serious when it needs to be. I loved it! Why waste time on big fat bloated novels that end up going nowhere when vastly superior novellas like this are waiting to be gobbled up.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole~

    The coming-of-age story of Milos Hrma - a young, naïve railwayman - unfolds in a small lethargic train station, set in North Bohemia, Prague during the last two weeks of WWII, 1945. Milos narrates a tale which covers a timespan of 48 hours in a series of flashbacks, where it is revealed how the scars on his wrists came to be and how three generations of Hrma men managed to besmirch their family name. Milos's day is spent dreamily watching military trains pass through to the front transporting The coming-of-age story of Milos Hrma - a young, naïve railwayman - unfolds in a small lethargic train station, set in North Bohemia, Prague during the last two weeks of WWII, 1945. Milos narrates a tale which covers a timespan of 48 hours in a series of flashbacks, where it is revealed how the scars on his wrists came to be and how three generations of Hrma men managed to besmirch their family name. Milos's day is spent dreamily watching military trains pass through to the front transporting the injured and dying; displaced refugees who had lost their homes in bombings; even dead or dying animals - evoking a clear picture of the chaotic period as a result of the impending German collapse. The plot moves surrealistically, from a natural to humorous manner: the daily lives and interactions of the townfolk; the histrionics of his forebears; the German Occupation and movement of Nazi troops from the front; Milos's humiliating 'first time' with his girlfriend that later prompted a suicide attempt; the licentious scene with dispatcher Hubička, inkstamping the derrière of the female telegraphist. I found such ribald scenes and periodic, foolish, digressive banter to be quite amusing, highlighting Hrabal's skill at veiling human drama with his distinctive sense of humor. About Milos's grandfather who thought himself a "hypnotist:" In this tank waist-deep in the cabin stood an officer of the Reich, with a black beret with the death's- head badge and crossed bones on his head, and my grandfather kept on going steadily forward, straight toward this tank, with his hands stretched out, and his eyes spraying towards the Germans the thought: 'Turn around and go back!' And really, that tank halted. The whole army stood still. Grandfather touched the leading tank with his outstretched fingers, and kept pouring out towards it the same suggestion: 'Turn around and go back, turn around and...' And then the lieutenant gave a signal with his pennant, and the tank changed its mind and moved forward, but grandfather never budged, and the tank ran over him and crushed his head, and after that there was nothing standing in the way of the German army. Milos's youthful idealistic view of Hubička, and a personal, perhaps subconscious, drive to remove the stigma from his family name -particularly his grandfather's doomed effort- lead him to accept a dangerous mission that culminates in a dramatic heroic deed, as he mercilessly exclaims: "You should have sat at home on your arse..." War fictionistas who have read All's Quiet on the Western Front would note echoes of a similar fateful and humanistic scene. Bohumil Hrabal's short, postwar novel is a stunning blend of humor, humanity, tragedy and heroism, justifiably earning the appellation of "masterpiece." Highly recommend. Other books I've read by Bohumil Hrabal here. ****** From wikipedia.org: Bohumil Hrabal (Czech pronunciation: [ˈboɦumɪl ˈɦrabal]) (28 March 1914 – 3 February 1997) was a Czech writer, regarded by many Czechs as one of the best writers of the 20th century. During the war, he worked as railway labourer and dispatcher in Kostomlaty, near Nymburk, an experience reflected in one of his best-known works Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    Closely Watched Trains is a slender but tightly and skillfully written novella. There is not one superfluous word or allusion. Its economy of expression, darkly spiced with humor, is in sharp contrast to the seriousness of its intent an anthem for doomed youth set in German occupied Czechoslovakia in 1945. Bohumil Hrabal once worked as a railway laborer and this story about Milos Hrma, a 22-year-old apprentice railway dispatcher, seems to draw richly on his experience. Milos is a troubled young Closely Watched Trains is a slender but tightly and skillfully written novella. There is not one superfluous word or allusion. Its economy of expression, darkly spiced with humor, is in sharp contrast to the seriousness of its intent – an anthem for doomed youth set in German occupied Czechoslovakia in 1945. Bohumil Hrabal once worked as a railway laborer and this story about Milos Hrma, a 22-year-old apprentice railway dispatcher, seems to draw richly on his experience. Milos is a troubled young man who worries excessively about his manhood, which he most wishes to demonstrate toward Masha, his lady love. While he watches trains as part of his job, he thinks people are watching him. Milos behaves as if life is not worth living and Hrabal captures his despair with gentle lyricism. Yet it is quite clear that Milos wants above all to stay alive and show the world he is truly a man. Life post World War II is bleak and Milos who watches the trains registers with his keen eye fragments of shattered lives in the carriages: blood stains, glass on the floor, a long bandage, a child’s striped ball, ailing or dead cattle. On the close surveillance medical trains, he feels a pang when he sees wounded soldiers who are boys his age or younger. Here is a poignant description: ‘And in this mobile sick-bay at which I was gazing, the strangest thing was the human eyes, the eyes of all those wounded soldiers. As though that agony there at the front, the agony they had inflicted on others and which others now were afflicting on them, had turned them into different people... They all peered through the windows into the dull countryside so attentively, with such childlike earnestness, as though they were passing through paradise itself, as though in my little station they saw a jewel-box.’ All this does not detract Milos from the beauty around him: the palpitating stars, radiant night, and crackling of frozen snow. Hrabal writes beautifully. There is also in this novella a zest for life, a frivolity that is welcome and takes the edge off the harsh realities. This centers on Dispatcher Hubicka, Milos' immediate supervisor, whose romp with a sexy telegraphist makes him a celebrity and envy of the town. Milos looks upon Hubicka as an ideal, and that ironically is his undoing. I felt tenderly toward Milos who is given to solitude. He is a young man with a whole life laid before him. He has no lofty ambition. His needs are primal. But it seems he is predestined for a mission he would not want to be part of if he could only anticipate the cost to himself. This tiny but powerful book brings to the fore the pathos of war. Soldiers on opposing sides are just sons of mothers who cannot rest until their children are home safe. Time and again, this shared humanity is obliterated in war times and brought to awareness only too late. Read Closely Watched Trains. Gravity and frivolity dwell side by side in unimaginable harmony.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    My last book of the year and read under less than ideal circumstances, to-wit: christmas stuff. So six days to read 85 pages, with a lot of entertainment and responsibility swirling around. I probably missed the larger import, but I did not miss one of the greatest endings of all time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    Originally written in Czech. I have a suspicion this translation by Edith Pargeter lost a lot, but it is still good enough for me for a perfect GR score. DREAMLIKE, it theres a word for it. Reading it gave me this experience: when disparate dreams come in sequence at night, each one understood completely as they pass before the eyes which open when one is asleep, each dream segment seeking to connect with the others, then backing off, one at a time, as if saying goodbye, yet making wordless Originally written in Czech. I have a suspicion this translation by Edith Pargeter lost a lot, but it is still good enough for me for a perfect GR score. DREAMLIKE, it there’s a word for it. Reading it gave me this experience: when disparate dreams come in sequence at night, each one understood completely as they pass before the eyes which open when one is asleep, each dream segment seeking to connect with the others, then backing off, one at a time, as if saying goodbye, yet making wordless promises to return when your need to remember comes. Then you wake up with the residual memory of your experience. And in those lazy moments between sleep and complete wakefulness you say to yourself that you will remember this dream, so funny, or sad, or strange. Your father, long gone, laughing at some joke, flashing his small, rotten teeth in glee. What could this mean? You will tell your wife later…But then you forget. Imagine if you could write like Bohumil Hrabal and make your readers feel as if they are WATCHING such dreams. They are no longer the dreamers, but an audience. Probably even the dreamt of, watching themselves live inside other people’s subconscious, seeing themselves reflected in a mirror.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tsung

    This is a surprising book. Not quite the grandiosity of I Served the King of England or the charm of Too Loud a Solitude, yet there is something different about this slender book of 84 pages. So unobtrusive is this book, that you might miss it on a shelf full of bigger books. Yet for a short book, it speaks volumes. Bohumil Hrabal is a great story teller. His inimitable style is evident from the first page. It is cheeky, hilarious, irreverent, naughty and ribald. But it is not all This is a surprising book. Not quite the grandiosity of I Served the King of England or the charm of Too Loud a Solitude, yet there is something different about this slender book of 84 pages. So unobtrusive is this book, that you might miss it on a shelf full of bigger books. Yet for a short book, it speaks volumes. Bohumil Hrabal is a great story teller. His inimitable style is evident from the first page. It is cheeky, hilarious, irreverent, naughty and ribald. But it is not all lightheartedness and he can give his tales a darker, more somber spin. The amazing thing is how he hides the gruesomeness amidst the frivolity, presenting catastrophic events innocuously and how he manages to change the tone of the book without being noticed. Set in 1945 in a Czech town, the Germans are on the back foot, but they are still making their presence felt. These German, closely watched trains, still pass through the train station and are given priority in passage. We follow the exploits of the station staff. The central figure is the hapless Milo Hrma, an unassuming, insecure young man with an embarrassing family history. He works at the station along with larger than life characters, including the pigeon-covered station master Lansky, the randy, libidinous dispatcher Hubicka, the floozy telegraphist Virginia and the conductress Masha. Despite their foibles and absurdities, there is a touch of longing and vulnerability which makes them human and worthy of empathy. Tucked between the hilarious tales were dark episodes. Two events stood out in particular. (view spoiler)[Living with the shame of a foolish grandfather and great grandfather, and the humiliation of not being able to perform with Masha, the love of his life, Milo attempted suicide. As he lay in the bathtub with both wrists slashed, it is described so artistically that it is easy to overlook the horror of it. …as though someone was drawing out from my wrists a long, feathery red bandage, a filmy, dancing veil… The second event was Milo being threatened by German soldiers. Ironically, it was the scars from his suicide attempt that got him off the hook. (hide spoiler)] Amongst his books, this novel is possibly Hrabal’s most powerful statement about war. While the characters express anti-German sentiment, Hrabal adds a different dimension to it. Juxtaposed in the background was the Allied devastation of Dresden. But now, as these Dresdeners came flocking here out of their city, I could no longer pity them, nobody could pity them, except they themselves. And those Germans knew it. Now one of them burst out weeping, in such a strange way, almost cooing, like the station-master’s pigeons when the raid disturbed them, and then his weeping became human, and only then did his body relax. And the other Germans began to blow their noses, and then they all burst into tears, every one in a different way, but fundamentally this was human crying, lamentation over what had happened. Then a twist in the plot. (view spoiler)[Milo, aided by Hubicka, turns from zero to hero, becoming a terrorist of sorts, bombing an ammunition laden closely watched train. Milo gets shot by a German soldier and shoots him in return. As he lay in the ditch, he has a revelation. He was a man, too, like me, or like Mr Hubicka, like us he hadn’t any distinction or rank, and yet we had shot each other and brought each other to death, although surely if we could have met somewhere in civil life we might well have liked each other, and found a lot to talk about. (hide spoiler)] ”Sollten Sie am Arsch zu Hause sitzen.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    João Reis

    This leaves you speechless. It resembled a journey to my own soul.

  11. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    A coming-of-age story of a young railwayman in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was a Czech writer said to be the greatest Czech novelist of the 20th century. Previous to this book, the only popular writer I have read was Milan Kundera (born 1929). In this book's back cover, this is what Kundera says about the book: "an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination." . Although this is true, I think Kundera's oversimplification of the A coming-of-age story of a young railwayman in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was a Czech writer said to be the greatest Czech novelist of the 20th century. Previous to this book, the only popular writer I have read was Milan Kundera (born 1929). In this book's back cover, this is what Kundera says about the book: "an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination." . Although this is true, I think Kundera's oversimplification of the novel's central idea does not do enough justice to what this book is all about. The story opens with Miloš Hrma enjoying his new railway man uniform. It is his first day at work as a predecessor of his father who has just retired as a railwayman. He is still a virgin and so he is being picked on by his older co-worker, train dispatcher Hubička. He has a crush on conductor Máša but when they make out, he ejaculated prematurely. So Hubička arranges for a Viktoria Freie, a Resistance spy to teach Miloš how to properly make love to a woman. All these with Hitler's army and the repression of Czechoslovakia serving as a backdrop. I've read many books about the Holocaust including the 1959 Gunter Grass' opus The Tin Drum. Although I liked those books that directly tackle Holocaust, like Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List (4 stars), Ellie Wiesel's Night (4 stars), Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz (4 stars), etc., especially because of the movies too, I think I have read so many of them that I have in a way already have a solid idea on what when on in the concentration camps. So, if there is a novel that is set outside the concentration camp especially in the German occupied countries, it is a welcome relief. What makes this book remarkable are the parts where the author concentrates on what's going on in the mind of his protagonist. The innocence of a young man who is idolizing this happy-go-lucky father and the sexual awakening is probably reflective of the countries that fall in Hitler's claw. Did countries at that time become disillusioned as they became powerless? This novel seems to be telling me that. This is something similar to the young people in the Philippines when the Americans or Japanese colonized the country during the tumultuous World War II. I agree with Wiki that Hrabal is a great novelist. This book is just thin and short but it is huge in message and can be interpreted in so many ways that if you don't find it great, I am not sure which book you can classify as that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Actually, 3.5 stars... Set in the final year of the Second World War, Ostře sledované vlaky weaves together the rather exaggerated personal story of a young apprentice for the Czech national train company (embarrassed by premature ejaculation, he tries to commit suicide; his grandfather tries to stop the invading German army solely with his mental powers of suggestion - his family has to go to Prague to recover the skull from the tread of a tank; he beds a beautiful complete stranger (a German, Actually, 3.5 stars... Set in the final year of the Second World War, Ostře sledované vlaky weaves together the rather exaggerated personal story of a young apprentice for the Czech national train company (embarrassed by premature ejaculation, he tries to commit suicide; his grandfather tries to stop the invading German army solely with his mental powers of suggestion - his family has to go to Prague to recover the skull from the tread of a tank; he beds a beautiful complete stranger (a German, at that) on the station master's couch merely by telling her that he is virgin) with the bits of the greater tragedy which can be seen from the platforms of a provincial train station. Hrabal (1914–1997) initially employs rapidly changing flashbacks whose pace slows as the broadly humorous strand of events at the station house converges with the tragic and ominous strand of events occurring in the outside world to meld into an event in which participate black humor, sentimentality, tragedy and the absurd. Though I find aspects of the structure of this novella to be more imposed than organic, it is remarkable what a range of life Hrabal manages to fit into 91 pages...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067vjwk Description: It is 1945. For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the sleepy railway station in Bohemia is full of complex preoccupations. There is the burden of dispatching German troop trains; the shocking scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka; and the vexing problem of his sexual performance. Classic comedy drama from a celebrated Czech writer. Director/Producer Gary Brown CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, which became the award-winning Jiri Menzel film of the http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067vjwk Description: It is 1945. For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the sleepy railway station in Bohemia is full of complex preoccupations. There is the burden of dispatching German troop trains; the shocking scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka; and the vexing problem of his sexual performance. Classic comedy drama from a celebrated Czech writer. Director/Producer Gary Brown CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, which became the award-winning Jiri Menzel film of the 'Prague Spring', is a classic of postwar literature, a small masterpiece of humour, humanity and heroism which fully justifies Hrabal's reputation. Milos is played by John Bradley who is Samwell Tarley in 'Game of Thrones'. This is John's first radio play. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060802/

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    'Closely Watched Trains' by Bohumil Hrabal For a book that is a mere 84 pages, and beautifully reissued in the wonderful Penguin Modern Classics imprint, it packs a heck of a lot in. 22 year old Milos, is a depressed apprentice with low self esteem who works at a small and sleepy Czech railway station during the last months of World War 2. His life is full of worries: his failure to consummate his relationship with the pretty conductor Masha, the scandalous - and highly amusing - goings-on in the 'Closely Watched Trains' by Bohumil Hrabal For a book that is a mere 84 pages, and beautifully reissued in the wonderful Penguin Modern Classics imprint, it packs a heck of a lot in. 22 year old Milos, is a depressed apprentice with low self esteem who works at a small and sleepy Czech railway station during the last months of World War 2. His life is full of worries: his failure to consummate his relationship with the pretty conductor Masha, the scandalous - and highly amusing - goings-on in the station master's office, his paranoia, and his family’s unpopularity in the community. 'Closely Watched Trains' is beautifully written (and translated) and is yet another example of just how much good east European literature there is from the mid 20th century. Other examples I have enjoyed include 'The Good Soldier Švejk' by Jaroslav Hašek, the work of Stefan Zweig, and doubtless many more I could remember when I have time to ponder it. This is an accomplished, moving, funny, compassionate, unusual, and informative novel with a strong sense of time and place. It's so enjoyable that I am moving straight on with another book by Bohumil Hrabal, 'Cutting It Short'. 4/5 Bohumil Hrabal met a rather tragic end... Suicide or accident?: The Death of the Sad King of Czech Literature, Bohumil Hrabal... When Bohumil Hrabal either jumped or fell from a fifth floor window of Prague’s Bulovka Hospital while feeding pigeons at 2:30 p. m. on February 3, 1997, it marked the end of a phenomenal literary career spanning six decades and contributing enormously to Czech culture. His death from the fifth floor has an undoubted symbolic dimension, whether sought or merely coincidental: In his works he wrote about philosophers and writers who had jumped to their deaths from the fifth storey and even confessed that he sometimes wanted to jump from the fifth floor window of his flat. Whether he did jump or whether he fell will forever remain a mystery. Yet one thing was for certain. The sad king of Czech literature was dead. The rest of the article is here... https://www.private-prague-guide.com/...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Calzean

    There's a lot going on in this little classic. The last days of WWII, the Third Reich is in decline, the Czech countryside is full of dead, dying and the broken. In a small railway station, Milos, a young signalman, is the narrator. He tells of his attempted suicide, the sexual desires of the station master, pigeons, and watches the German trains pass to and fro. There is a sense of senselessness about the whole war and a need to do something before it is over. Milos fore-fathers have all failed There's a lot going on in this little classic. The last days of WWII, the Third Reich is in decline, the Czech countryside is full of dead, dying and the broken. In a small railway station, Milos, a young signalman, is the narrator. He tells of his attempted suicide, the sexual desires of the station master, pigeons, and watches the German trains pass to and fro. There is a sense of senselessness about the whole war and a need to do something before it is over. Milos fore-fathers have all failed to be what they wanted to be. Milos has to decide whether to try and risk his life or sit back and survive. The classic question in war.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    Thank you to Goodreads for deleting my previous review. Did I slander Bohumil Hrabal by saying this short novel wasn't as exceptional as I SERVED THE KIND OF ENGLAND or TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE, but still worth your time? Or by mentioning the odd but largely successful mix of historical horror, ribald comedy, and subverted coming-of-age tropes? Or by pointing out that the novel seems intentionally disorienting for the first couple of chapters but eventually feels as precise as a stationmaster's Thank you to Goodreads for deleting my previous review. Did I slander Bohumil Hrabal by saying this short novel wasn't as exceptional as I SERVED THE KIND OF ENGLAND or TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE, but still worth your time? Or by mentioning the odd but largely successful mix of historical horror, ribald comedy, and subverted coming-of-age tropes? Or by pointing out that the novel seems intentionally disorienting for the first couple of chapters but eventually feels as precise as a stationmaster's pocket watch?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    Quirky, funny and sad. Beautifully written and well translated. Set in Czech in World War II, this is the story of the goings on at a railway station. An odd little novella of 83 pages. I had not read or even heard of Hrabal before, but I will seek out his books again. March 2019: I just re-read this, as I needed a small book which I could keep in my pocket and this was perfect. On the second reading, it will even better. A wonderful read with a deceptively simple writing style - I would probably Quirky, funny and sad. Beautifully written and well translated. Set in Czech in World War II, this is the story of the goings on at a railway station. An odd little novella of 83 pages. I had not read or even heard of Hrabal before, but I will seek out his books again. March 2019: I just re-read this, as I needed a small book which I could keep in my pocket and this was perfect. On the second reading, it will even better. A wonderful read with a deceptively simple writing style - I would probably give it 5 stars this time.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erwin

    An extraordinary story both humourous and sad. A remarkable piece of writing. This is the second book by Hrabal (the first being Too Loud A Solitude) Ive read. Both deserving a re-read(at least once). Hrabal goes onto my favourite author list. An extraordinary story both humourous and sad. A remarkable piece of writing. This is the second book by Hrabal (the first being Too Loud A Solitude) I’ve read. Both deserving a re-read(at least once). Hrabal goes onto my favourite author list.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Ghastly, the whole of Dresdens kaput. This short, novella length, book, is the first I have read by Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal. Set in 1945, as WWII is coming to a close, it involves a young railway apprentice, Milos Hrma. Milos is returning to work after a suicide attempt and this book involves the eccentric staff at the station, his failed attempts to romance the lovely conductor, Masha, and the way the war impinges on the lives of those around him. In fact, the book begins with a plane “Ghastly, the whole of Dresden’s kaput.” This short, novella length, book, is the first I have read by Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal. Set in 1945, as WWII is coming to a close, it involves a young railway apprentice, Milos Hrma. Milos is returning to work after a suicide attempt and this book involves the eccentric staff at the station, his failed attempts to romance the lovely conductor, Masha, and the way the war impinges on the lives of those around him. In fact, the book begins with a plane crash, which results in the locals stripping the metal for scrap, to be used in various ways. However, generally, the inhabitants of the sleepy, Czech town, prefer to try to carry on with life, as best as they can. Although short, this does contain a lot of substance, wrapped up in a darkly comic tone. Clever, with some very beautiful writing and worth reading. Rated 3.5.

  20. 5 out of 5

    M. Sarki

    I liked it. Didn't think I would. Reminded me a bit of Robert Walser because of the narrator's childlike wonder of it all, except in this version, unlike the wandering and unlucky Walser, this hero gets laid. And in more ways than one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Russell Bittner

    Milan Kundera, whose prose(and consequently whose thinking) I much admire, describes, on the back cover of the edition I recently found in a dusty old bookstore here in Manhattan Bohumil Hrabals Closely Observed Trains as (o)ne of the most authentic incarnations of magical Prague; an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination What is unique about Hrabal is his capacity for joy. I would be hard-pressed to question Milan Kunderas appreciation of literature. Insteadand as Ive had Milan Kundera, whose prose(and consequently whose thinking) I much admire, describes, on the back cover of the edition I recently found in a dusty old bookstore here in Manhattan Bohumil Hrabal’s Closely Observed Trains as “(o)ne of the most authentic incarnations of magical Prague; an incredible union of earthly humor and baroque imagination… What is unique about Hrabal is his capacity for joy.” I would be hard-pressed to question Milan Kundera’s appreciation of literature. Instead—and as I’ve had ample experience with this kind of thing in the fairly recent past—I’ll question whether the translation is a good one. Yes, I see Kundera’s point. And yes, my reading of Closely Observed Trains gave me flashbacks to my reading, once upon a time, of Michael Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. But other than a few lite-comic episodes juxtaposed with the standard brand of Nazi (read=atrocious) behavior, I found the going sluggish. I’m not Czech—and so, I may’ve missed something. But I lived long enough in Vienna and in and around Eastern Europe at one point to have made a fair acquaintance with that peculiar brand of humor. The numb-nuts mindset of the train personnel assigned to duty (and to their tiny ambitions) in the midst—and middle—of a continent in which world powers are trying to shoot, bomb and burn themselves into extinction naturally lends itself to a surrealistic approach to story-telling. I’m just not sure I get (or got) it. RRB 12/31/12 Brooklyn, NY

  22. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    [I had recently marked a Hrabal novel "to read," and the author's name sounded familiar, so I looked into my archive and found I had indeed read a Hrabal novel in 2011: Closely Watched Trains. So, in that spirit, let's take another look at that review. Reading it, I can relive stuff I had completely forgotten; thus the beauty of writing these literary diaries.] A few decades back when I was exploring the world of "foreign film" for the first time, the 1966 Czech movie adaptation of this Czech [I had recently marked a Hrabal novel "to read," and the author's name sounded familiar, so I looked into my archive and found I had indeed read a Hrabal novel in 2011: Closely Watched Trains. So, in that spirit, let's take another look at that review. Reading it, I can relive stuff I had completely forgotten; thus the beauty of writing these literary diaries.] A few decades back when I was exploring the world of "foreign film" for the first time, the 1966 Czech movie adaptation of this Czech novella turned up frequently in the film reference compendiums, listed among the "great foreign films" or "greatest films." I think I first saw reference to it in one of Leslie Halliwell's retrospective movie essay books. I don't notice the movie being as discussed or reverently mentioned as it once was, which is natural as the world turns, as more movies get made and the current generation gets further away from the receding buzz. At some point in the 1980s I finally did see the film and remember enjoying it, but only the sexual escapades and the heroic finale lingered on in my memory. I noticed the original 1964 book by Bohumil Hrabal listed on the back of the Polish novel, Ashes and Diamonds, which I recently read, and thought that this story merited another look. This book reminded me that the movie had strong magical realism elements that I had forgotten. I'm not a fan of magical realism, and for about half the way I found myself a little confused by the book. But 40 or so pages into it things began to clarify and the story ingratiated itself. The writing is choppy and full of clauses and is marked by the sudden appearance of dream sequences and similar flights of fancy intended to reflect the main character's state of mind, all or some of which may or may not be everyone's cup of tea. Much stock is put in the eccentric habits of the characters more than in the narrative itself. The story takes place at a train station in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. The main character is a young apprentice train dispatcher named Milos Hrma, whose primary preoccupation seems to be with his sexual prowess, or lack thereof. Seems he can't get it up and get it off for his best girl, Masha, and in a state of resulting depression he tries to kill himself. Hrma comes from a long line of layabout losers, and the book traces his journey from schlub to hero, although the outcome of that journey and fulfillment of self worth comes with a heavy price. Hrma looks up to his senior colleague, the dispatcher Mr. Hubicka, who seems to have a telfon skin to which nothing sticks. Young Hrma admires his confident mentor's accomplishments with the ladies, even the latter's apparent ability to evade punishment for sexual harassment of their train-station colleague, Virginia. The station is run by a junior-league Napoleon, Mr. Lansky, who berates his decent wife and has love for nothing but his loyal loft of cooing pigeons and his overstuffed office furniture. In describing certain incidents, including the cruelty to farm animals being freighted to slaughter--which obviously is meant to parallel the concurrent barbarities of the second world war--Hrabal is grimly effective. The book, which ultimately is a plea for human brotherhood and a condemnation of war, has a certain rough charm and enough memorable incident to be worth a look. (KevinR@Ky with new retrospective intro in 2016)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Closely Watched Trains is a vivid, often hilarious, devastating kick in the gut. Although written (and banned) in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, the story hasn't lost much in translation or the passage of time. War tragedy and humorous youthful sexual burlesque rarely go out of style; taken together, if written well (as Hrabal does), the tragedy and humor amplify one other. Narrator Milos is a naive young apprentice train station agent near Prague during the German occupation. Having failed to Closely Watched Trains is a vivid, often hilarious, devastating kick in the gut. Although written (and banned) in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, the story hasn't lost much in translation or the passage of time. War tragedy and humorous youthful sexual burlesque rarely go out of style; taken together, if written well (as Hrabal does), the tragedy and humor amplify one other. Narrator Milos is a naive young apprentice train station agent near Prague during the German occupation. Having failed to please the girl he fancies, he decides that since he "isn't a man" he must take his own life. Milos's mentor and coworker Mr. Hubicka happens to know a lot about seducing the opposite sex, and becomes embroiled in allegations of a particularly "creative" sexual assault. Meanwhile the war, though distant and removed, rolls evidence past Milo's eyes in the form of strafed carriages, casualty wagons, and secret SS reconnaissance trains that must be "closely watched". It's hard to capture in a few words why I found this book absolutely brilliant. The chronological back and forth initially confused me, but once the the author's vivid imagery, acute characterizations, brutal yet somehow beautiful violence and uproarious humor all snagged me, I couldn't put this one down until the final blood-drenched page.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ram

    Even in my bad luck I have always been lucky." A war story, a coming of age story, an anti-war story, funny, tragic, atmospheric and witty. In this classical book, Bohumil Hrabal presents us a slice of world war two, from an original point of view. A young man who is a railroad apprentice in a Czech town during the end of world war two. Trains fly by every day, cargo trains, mail trains, passenger trains and mostly, military trains packed with soldiers, tanks and ammunition. The protagonist, Miloš “Even in my bad luck I have always been lucky." A war story, a coming of age story, an anti-war story, funny, tragic, atmospheric and witty. In this classical book, Bohumil Hrabal presents us a slice of world war two, from an original point of view. A young man who is a railroad apprentice in a Czech town during the end of world war two. Trains fly by every day, cargo trains, mail trains, passenger trains and mostly, military trains packed with soldiers, tanks and ammunition. The protagonist, Miloš Hrma, deals with various issues in this short book: His coming of age and his sexual desires and fears. The job as a railroad apprentice and his position in the railroad hierarchy. The German occupation and it's effect on his freedom, life and self-esteem. War in general and it's morals…Do we hate the enemy in general, or do we hate each enemy in person? The book includes various symbols, pigeons as anti war symbols, trains vs horses and more that I probably didn't notice or understand. I admit that I did not fully connect to the book, and in some cases it sounded to me like a description of a dream more than reality, a slightly confused dream.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBc Radio 4 -Drama: It is 1945. For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the sleepy railway station in Bohemia is full of complex preoccupations. There is the burden of dispatching German troop trains; the shocking scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka; and the vexing problem of his sexual performance. Classic comedy drama from a celebrated Czech writer. Director/Producer Gary Brown CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, which became the award-winning Jiri Menzel film of the 'Prague Spring', is a classic of From BBc Radio 4 -Drama: It is 1945. For gauche young apprentice Milos Hrma, life at the sleepy railway station in Bohemia is full of complex preoccupations. There is the burden of dispatching German troop trains; the shocking scandal of Dispatcher Hubicka; and the vexing problem of his sexual performance. Classic comedy drama from a celebrated Czech writer. Director/Producer Gary Brown CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, which became the award-winning Jiri Menzel film of the 'Prague Spring', is a classic of postwar literature, a small masterpiece of humour, humanity and heroism which fully justifies Hrabal's reputation. Milos is played by John Bradley who is Samwell Tarley in 'Game of Thrones'. This is John's first radio play. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067vjwk

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    It was unpleasant (for me) to read; difficult subjects. German-occupied Czechoslovakia not a good place for a young man to grow up. I read this at the library Friday, Jan 4 instead of bringing it home with me but thought I had better circle back and make notes for self. Looking back at how I selected this book due to goodreads endorsements, I must admit I was unaware there was a movie made of this in 1967 winning the Academy Award for best foreign film. One of my favorite authors, Edith Pargeter, It was unpleasant (for me) to read; difficult subjects. German-occupied Czechoslovakia not a good place for a young man to grow up. I read this at the library Friday, Jan 4 instead of bringing it home with me but thought I had better circle back and make notes for self. Looking back at how I selected this book due to goodreads endorsements, I must admit I was unaware there was a movie made of this in 1967 winning the Academy Award for best foreign film. One of my favorite authors, Edith Pargeter, wrote the introduction in the Northwestern University Press paperback I read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I assume that most English speakers will have decided to read this book after seeing the movie by Jiri Menzel. If by any odd chance you have read the book without having seen the movie, borrow a copy from your library or download it immediately from Netflix.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Dark farce set in a Czech railway station during the German Occupation in WWII. Young apprentice Milos is a troubled man, worrying about his love life, his unsuccessful attempt to lose his virginity with the conductor Masha, the notorious affairs of the despatcher and the bad reputation his family have in the village. Then a visitor from the Resistance offers the chance to make everything right... This neatly written novella uses the absurd to set universal questions in the situation of one, Dark farce set in a Czech railway station during the German Occupation in WWII. Young apprentice Milos is a troubled man, worrying about his love life, his unsuccessful attempt to lose his virginity with the conductor Masha, the notorious affairs of the despatcher and the bad reputation his family have in the village. Then a visitor from the Resistance offers the chance to make everything right... This neatly written novella uses the absurd to set universal questions in the situation of one, slightly awkward, individual. What is resistance, and how can the ordinary man ever resist when huge forces are in play? The imagery of the railway station, and the station master's pet pigeons, give a striking background to Milos' story. Personally I didn't find this humorous, it veered between bizarre and terribly sad, but it certainly was thought provoking, intriguing and skilfully crafted. 3.5 stars overall.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jim Puskas

    Over the past couple of years, Bohumil Hrabal has become one of my favorite writers. Here once again he presents us with his magical blend of sardonic humor, idealism, disillusionment and the absurd, all wrapped up in a Kafkaesque variety of noir. And into this brief novelette he packs a greater range of ideas, insights and emotions than Ive encountered in many a 400 page novel. Hrabal was a master at getting deep under the skin of his protagonist without lapsing into a tiresome, neurotic Over the past couple of years, Bohumil Hrabal has become one of my favorite writers. Here once again he presents us with his magical blend of sardonic humor, idealism, disillusionment and the absurd, all wrapped up in a Kafkaesque variety of noir. And into this brief novelette he packs a greater range of ideas, insights and emotions than I’ve encountered in many a 400 page novel. Hrabal was a master at getting deep under the skin of his protagonist without lapsing into a tiresome, neurotic monologue. Milos Hrma, a frustrated young man, is made real for us through his interactions with those around him. His journey of self-discovery is mirrored through the image of himself that he envisions others see in him — but also, tellingly, in an episode where he hardly recognizes his own image in a mirror because what he sees before him fails to coincide with how he sees himself in life. Hrabal was a student of man under conditions of stress, where the essence of his characters could be extracted under pressure and the strength of their personality, the truth of their moral code exposed, for good or ill. This work has of course been adapted very successfully to film, a movie I’ve yet to see. But while reading this, it seemed to me that it would be even better as a work for the stage. I wonder if anyone has thought to attempt that ….

  30. 5 out of 5

    Trishita (TrishReviews_ByTheBook)

    War gives you two options, to either be heroic or stand by as unheroic. Closely Watched Trains is about the (un)heroic Milos Hrma in the closing years of the second World War somewhere in a small town of German-occupied Czechoslovakia. The narrative runs along as a charming folk-comedy based out of a local country station where Milos works as an apprentice train dispatcher closely watching military trains carrying dead or dying German troops, animals and ammunitions. While it is serious business War gives you two options, to either be heroic or stand by as unheroic. Closely Watched Trains is about the (un)heroic Milos Hrma in the closing years of the second World War somewhere in a small town of German-occupied Czechoslovakia. The narrative runs along as a charming folk-comedy based out of a local country station where Milos works as an apprentice train dispatcher ‘closely watching’ military trains carrying dead or dying German troops, animals and ammunitions. While it is serious business out at the station, every kind of absurd happens behind the scenes. Through the eyes of Milos, we see the station master and his obsession of pigeons, talking to them, walking around with them defying all sense of duty. We also see the senior train dispatcher embroiled in a licentious affair having inkstamped the bare behind of a female colleague in the station master’s room. Of course, there is Milos himself who remembers vividly his failure as a man while making love to his girlfriend which had led him to a failed suicide attempt. This is a book where comic absurdity and tragedy run along side by side; but these elements do not just function individually, they are carefully placed to amp each other up for the reader. And that is the genius of Bohumil Hrabal. He is deceptively clever in his writing, hiding his narrative-intent with a lightheartedness and hitting you with an explosion of an ending. The tone of the book changes in the last five pages, and all of a sudden the absurd comedy takes a dark, seemingly heroic turn. I am a huge fan of books with exceptional endings, Hrabal has constantly delivered it, once with a quiet transcendence and this time, with a booming resonance. Beautiful, both times. What a humorous take on humanity and heroism! What a quietly disrupting history lesson of a book! 4.5 stars!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.