The Gentle Barbarian

Bohumil Hrabal, trans. from the Czech by Paul Wilson. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2858-9
Hrabal (1914–1997) (Too Loud a Solitude) sketches a delightful portrait of his friend, Czech artist Vladimír Boudník, who died by suicide in 1968 at age 44. Hrabal opens with a brief account of Boudník’s death (“Vladimír plunged head-first from the Embankment of the present into the heart of eternity”) before rewinding and unspooling a series of anecdotes and rapid-fire remembrances from his days around Prague with Boudník. There are clear indications of the demons haunting his friend, but Hrabal’s absurdist, satirical prose is star of the show with its clever non sequiturs, ribald humor, paradoxical episodes, and comedic set pieces, such as an ambulance that roars up to a pub so the medics can wheel out beer on their stretcher. Many scenes end with sudden inspiration or overheated exasperation, such as when poet Egon Bondy hears of Boudník’s latest escapade and professes mock indignation: “Jesus, you two miscreants are stealing my thunder and you don’t even know you’re doing it.” Hrabal, with his episodic memories, mirrors Boudník’s artistic methods: “He found creativity in disorder.” The resulting romp succeeds as both a touching homage to Boudník’s remarkable life and a showcase for Hrabal’s skill. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/16/2020
Release date: 11/26/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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