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Too Loud a Solitude (1976)

by Bohumil Hrabal

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,6564710,702 (3.99)105
Ha?t has been compacting trash for thirty-five years. Every evening, he rescues books from the jaws of his hydraulic press, carries them home, and fills his house with them. Ha?t may be an idiot, as his boss calls him, but he is an idiot with a difference-the ability to quote the Talmud, Hegel, and Lao-Tzu.… (more)
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» See also 105 mentions

English (33)  French (4)  Italian (3)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
A definitive five star of a book. I don't know how I ended up discovering the writer and bought this book in India. I wish I knew of him when I went to Prague.
What stood out for me in this book is the polite, yet firm tug at what is modernization. Before, when Hanta works away at his little compactor slowly, he imagines retirement to be a time to do the same thing on his own machine but at his own pace and creating masterpieces of bales. Then the large compactor and its industrial workers who wear protective garments like gloves and take breaks are introduced and 'efficiency' is introduced. A similar theme of retirement is described with his uncle and friends who buy off a little engine and make rides for children. The pride in their work sentiment is so moving.

I think the book has a beautiful ending, it is sad, but the beauty is so intense, I hardly noticed the sorrow. And thats what beauty can be, even blind out sorrow. ( )
  zasmine | Dec 31, 2023 |
It's been a long time since I've read this, and it holds up. As with most of my beloved czech authors, I feel fortified a bit against the constant onslaught of our dysfunctional society. ( )
1 vote Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
In this novella, protagonist Haňťa works in a paper disposal and compacting facility in Prague in the 1930s to 1970s. He holds a deep love for books and occasionally saves them from being destroyed. He is not highly educated but has expanded his knowledge by reading the books he has accumulated. His home is filled with great works of literature. When he visits a larger, more efficient paper processing facility, he sees the writing on the wall that his small facility will soon fade into the past. His drinking worsens.

For me, the best part of this book is the writing, with passages such as: “But just as a beautiful fish will occasionally sparkle in the water of a polluted river that runs through a stretch of factories, so in the flow of old paper the spine of a rare book will occasionally shine forth, and if for a moment I turn away, dazzled, I always turn back in time to rescue it, and after wiping it off on my apron, opening it wide, and breathing in its print, I glue my eyes to the text and read the first sentence like a Homeric prophecy; then I place it carefully among my other splendid finds.”

Hrabal elegantly expresses the joy that readers find in books: “And I huddle in the lee of my paper mountain like Adam in the bushes and pick up a book, and my eyes open panic-stricken on a world other than my own, because when I start reading I’m somewhere completely different, I’m in the text, it’s amazing, I have to admit I’ve been dreaming, dreaming in a land of great beauty, I’ve been in the very heart of truth.”

The book is about the finding beauty in simplicity. It is about solitude and the impact of change. It condemns the destruction of knowledge, which was prevalent at the time. It is sad, and I cannot say it was a particularly pleasant reading experience, but I appreciate its messages. I would not recommend it to anyone feeling depressed.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Almost certainly the best novel about the Eastern European wastepaper recycling industry ever written. "Too Loud a Solitude" is a novelette that is by turns sad and pleasantly surreal, one of those little books where everything comes together beautifully and the author hardly wastes a sentence. We hear our narrator, the operator of a wastepaper press in Communist Prague whose work keeps him almost completely confined to a cellar, describe how he has spent his life both rescuing books and reducing them to pulp. At work, he's both voracious autodidact and sculptor, making sure that each of his bales has, for example, a great work of literature at its center or that its outside showcases some notable work of art. Even though it was published long before the Amazon Kindle was a gleam in Jeff Bezos's eye, "Too Loud a Solitude" is sort of a love song to the sheer physicality of books, paper, and the written word. People who are ideologically opposed to e-readers should enjoy it. It's not that our protagonist doesn't have deeply held opinions about the books he's known, it's that his treasured books also cause him to sweat, ache, and go through a few liters of beer a night. For a book about books, "Too Loud a Solitude" is often relentlessly, excruciatingly physical. We hear about the mice that infest our main character's cellar, about more than a couple of incidents involving unsavory bodily secretions, and about a lot of not-so-good-for-you lifestyle choices. But "Too Loud a Solitude" seems to thrive on these oppositions without ever seeming too much like a writerly conceit. We hear a lot about Hegel, about an ongoing, eternal war between rats in the city sewers, about the joy and pain that comes with compressing wastepaper, about a touching, almost wordless romance, and about the disasters that the twentieth century visited upon the city where it's set. Our narrator's got his hands in the dirt and his head in the clouds, and it makes him rather likable.

This book's narrator is, in a certain sense, a hermit: I kept wondering which gnome-like creature in Czech mythology he most resembled. But, like many readers, he's doesn't feel lonely, even when he's alone. We also hear about the curious social network that our main character's job has allowed him to build up. He's visited both by the near-destitute -- who provide him with wastepaper -- and a collection of priests, professors, and other crazed readers, all of whom are constantly on the lookout for material that interests them, some of which the Czech government would destroy on purely ideological grounds. Most of the characters we meet in "Too Loud a Solitude" are, to put it bluntly, a few volumes short of a full encyclopedia, but I think the author is trying to suggest that to really love books, you sort of have to be. Also, even though this book is set before the Iron Curtain fell, we don't hear much about the dreary sort of socialism that defined much of life in Eastern Europe for most of the last half of the twentieth century. Our main character's paper-stuffed cellar and his house -- which is full to bursting with the volumes that he's rescued from the press -- provide him genuine shelter from a fairly colorless reality. Hrabal wrote this one under an authoritarian socialist regime, but he might as well have been writing about some of the less-than-admirable aspects late capitalism, too. His metaphors are nothing if not flexible. This is a book about literature, about books, and about how loving both of these things can help us endure. Recommended, especially to especially to those who've spent their lives haunting libraries, bookstores -- or, why not? -- paper-recycling facilities. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Jan 31, 2022 |
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bohumil Hrabalprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ducreux-Palenicek, Anne-MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Godlewski, PiotrTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heim, Michael HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keller, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mercks, KeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sacher, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zgustová, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Only the sun has a right to its spots.
- Goethe
Dedication
First words
For thirty-five years now I've been in wastepaper, and it's my love story.
Quotations
How much more beautiful it must have been in the days when the only place a thought could make its mark was the human brain and anybody wanting to squelch ideas had to compact human heads, but even that wouldn't have helped, because real thoughts come from outside and travel with us like the noodle soup we take to work; in other words, inquisitors burn books in vain. If a book has anything to say, it burns with a quiet laugh, because any book worth its salt points up and out of itself. …. When my eye lands on a real book and looks past the printed word, what it sees is disembodied thoughts flying through the air, gliding on air, living off air, returning to air, because in the end everything is air, just as the host is and is not the blood of Christ.
I can be by myself because I'm never lonely, I'm simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.
Not until we're totally crushed do we show what we are made of.
For thirty-five years now I've been in waste paper, and it's my love story. For thirty-five years I've been compacting wastepaper and books, smearing myself with letters until I've come to look like my encyclopaedias... I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I only have to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.
Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqeur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Ha?t has been compacting trash for thirty-five years. Every evening, he rescues books from the jaws of his hydraulic press, carries them home, and fills his house with them. Ha?t may be an idiot, as his boss calls him, but he is an idiot with a difference-the ability to quote the Talmud, Hegel, and Lao-Tzu.

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Book description
Desde hace treinta y cinco años, Hanta trabaja en una trituradora de papel prensando libros y reproducciones de cuadros. En cada una de las balas de papel que prepara conviven libros, litografías, ratoncillos aprisionados y su propio esfuerzo, que se manifiesta en una relación absolutamente amorosa con los libros que destruye por oficio y salva por pasión.
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