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I Served the King of England by Bohumil…
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I Served the King of England (1971)

by Bohumil Hrabal

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1462411,857 (3.94)44
With an introduction by Adam ThirlwellSparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, I Served the King of England is a story of how the unbelievable came true. Its remarkable hero, Ditie, is a hotel waiter who rises to become a millionaire and then loses it all again against the backdrop of events in Prague from the German invasion to the victory of Communism. Ditie's fantastic journey intertwines the political and the personal in a narrative that both enlightens and entertains.… (more)

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» See also 44 mentions

English (15)  Spanish (6)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Extraordinary. Quite simply one of the greatest things I have read in my life. The first-person narrative of a waiter in pre-WW2 Czechoslovakia, it begins in a predominately comic vein as it tells a coming of age story highlighted by an encounter with the Emperor of Ethiopia, then turns deadly serious as World War 2 starts and the Nazis take over his homeland--not to his detriment, however, as he has managed to captivate a beautiful German gym instructor whom he marries, with the permission of the Nazi party, in one of the book's most memorable juxtapositions of the ridiculous and the horrific. But it is the post-war section that truly seals the novel's greatness, as the waiter's financial success segues into a comic prison sequence that ends with his more or less banishment to the forest. The closing sequences, with his faithful animal friends, are about as good as writing can get. This book pretty much captures everything there is about life, about self-discovery, about happiness, about wealth, about friendship, about love--about all things--in its 241 pages. I feel privileged to have read it. In a house with hundreds of books I will never live long enough to even open, I'm happy my hands pulled this one out of the stack. ( )
  datrappert | Jul 22, 2019 |
What a glorious novel. Set in pre- to post-WW2, it tells the life story of a Czech busboy turned millionaire who loses everything (or does he?) The writing style changes as the man matures. The first half is comic stream of conscious and gets a little tedious, but if you can get to the halfway point, the rest of the book is pure genius and 100% enjoyable. The history of its publication and the author is also pretty interesting. I would highly recommend this book to a reader patient enough to get through the first half-- which is funny and amusing, but gets a little old after a while. I actually think this is intentional, but still tedious. The second half of the book flew by (like the second half of our lives?). ( )
1 vote technodiabla | Dec 2, 2017 |
I didn't finish the book, so to be brief: the Vintage jacket blurb accurately describes this as a "comic picaresque", so I get that it's farcical, fantastic. My problem is with the unwavering delivery of comic scenes, no shift in tone, no subtleness. And I just couldn't receive this as the laugh-a-minute romp that seemed intended. I understand the tone shifts in the latter half, but I wasn't curious enough to hang. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Jun 11, 2017 |
"This story of how the unbelievable came true"
By sally tarbox on 15 April 2017
Format: Paperback
(Spoiler alert) Narrator Ditie begins his tale with his first job, as busboy at the Golden Prague Hotel in the 1930s. From a lowly background, Ditie starts to make serious money, and can begin to indulge in the lifestyle of the wealthy guests, whether visiting the girls at the Paradise brothel or throwing handfuls of coins to the poor. The first section of the novel didn't seem to be going anywhere, with its stories of eccentric guests and staff and sexual adventures.
Then comes the German occupation; Ditie falls for Nazi patriot Lise, to the disgust of his countrymen. And goes on to make it big in the hotel business, but loses it all...
As Ditie finds himself in a surreal 'millionaires' prison' the whole thing started to become a bit Kafkaesque and I found my concentration waning.
But in the final chapter, as he is coerced into - and comes to enjoy - a quiet contemplative life, working in the mountains, the writing really became very strong and thought-provoking. Former moments of glory, such as serving royal dignitaries, cease to have the same significance:

"I had obviously changed so much that no one could tell by looking at me that I really had served the Emperor of Ethiopia. But it meant something quite different to me now. When I mentioned serving the Emperor of Ethiopia, it was a way of making fun of myself, because I was independent now and beginning to find the presence of other people irksome, and I felt that in the end, I would have to speak only with myself, that my own best friend and companion would be that other self of mine, that teacher inside myself with whom I was beginning to talk more and more."

A very unusual book which is difficult to review, a mixture of anecdotes and poetry, human desire for wealth, sex and status and a gradual enjoyment of simpler pleasures. Maybe a book about growing up? ( )
  starbox | Apr 15, 2017 |
‘I Served the King of England’ starts off humorously, with the narrator, a young hotel busboy, describing various guests and how he makes money on the side by selling frankfurters at the railroad station and conveniently not having change for their big bills. However, it quickly starts meandering with a style that feels like one anecdote after another concatenated together as he moves from one hotel to the next. There is some sex thrown in here and there, starting with him early on discovering an “aim for life” after visiting Paradise’s, a local brothel, but it doesn’t feel all that honest, such as the time prostitutes find themselves so aroused after being poked and prodded by a bunch of rich old men that they need him to skillfully ‘finish what they began’. (ugh)

It takes awhile to get there, but the third and fourth chapters (out of five total) are good, when the Nazis take over the Czechoslovakia and the narrator finds himself in love with a German woman, then subjects himself to a humiliating physical examination before being permitted to marry her. Tellingly, their son, supposedly a part of the future superior Aryan race, is mentally retarded, and this portion of the book ends with a very moving scene.

It is interesting to read Hrabal’s expression of Czech zeitgeist in the 1970’s, having endured the Nazis and then the Soviets, and in the case of the narrator, having guilt for having profited in WWII from plunder taken from the Jews, and yet, through it all, keeping a lightness, and a madcap zaniness about them. It’s an easy book to rate for me though. Four stars for chapters three and four, and two and a half stars for the rest of it.

Quotes:
On the beauty of nature:
“It wasn’t a small hotel, as I’d been expecting, but a small town or a large village surrounded by woods, with hot springs in the forest and air so fresh you could have put it in a cup. All you had to do was turn and face the pleasant breeze and drink it in freely, as fish breathe through their gills, and you could hear the oxygen mixed with ozone flowing through your gills, and your lungs and vital parts would gradually pump up, as though earlier, somewhere down in the valley, long before, you’d got a flat tire, and it was only now, in this air, that you’d got it automatically pumped back up to a pressure that was safer and nicer to drive on.”

On love:
“We looked at each other as though we were both naked, and again that white film came over her eyes, the kind of look women get when they are ready to cast aside the last shred of inhibition and let themselves be treated any way that seems right at the moment, when a different world opens up, a world of love games and wantonness. She gave me a long, slow kiss in front of everyone, and I closed my eyes, and as we kissed, our champagne glasses tilted in our fingers and the wine slowly spilled out onto the tablecloth, and all the guests were silent.”

On having only a few moments left before saying goodbye; this as the German soldiers were about to leave for the Russian Front:
“Only now have I got to the core of it, that what made these people beautiful was knowing that they might never see each other again. The New Man was not the victor, loud-mouthed and vain, but the man who was humble and solemn, with the beautiful eyes of a terrified animal. And so through the eyes of these lovers – because even married couples became lovers again with the dangers of the front hanging over them – I learned to see the countryside, the flowers on the tables, the children at play, and to see that every hour is a sacrament. The day and the night before the departure for the front, the lovers didn’t sleep, but they weren’t necessarily in bed either, because there was something more here than bed: there were eyes and special feeling, like seeing a sad, romantic play or movie in a large theater or movie house. I also learned that the closest that one person can be to another is through silence, an hour, then a quarter-hour, then the last few minutes of silence when the carriage has arrived, or sometimes a military britzska, or a car. Two silent people rise to their feet, gazing long at each other, a sigh, then a final kiss, then the man standing in the britzska, then the man sitting down and the vehicle driving off up the hill, the final bend in the road, the waving handkerchief.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Jan 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hrabal, Bohumilprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
夏樹, 池澤Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
賢一, 阿部Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jähn, Karl-HeinzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mercks, KeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varga, GyörgyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vermeulen, RickCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zgustová, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When I started to work at the Golden Prague Hotel, the boss took hold of my left ear, pulled me up and said, 'You're a busboy here, so remember, you don't see anything and you don't hear anything.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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