Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal




  • Series: Harvest in Translation
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 27, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156904586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156904582


From Too Loud a Solitude :

“If I knew how to write, I’d write a book about the greatest  of man’s joys and sorrows.  It is by and from books that I’ve learned that the heavens are not humane, neither the heavens nor any man with a head on his shoulders – it’s not that men don’t wish to be humane, it just goes against common sense.”

I think I feel a new reading obsession coming on.

Bohumil Hrabal was a Czech writer who wrote with “an extremely expressive, highly visual style.” I’m not sure where I found the recommendation, but someone somewhere told me I should have a go at his Too Loud a Solitude. Luckily, I was able to track this one down via interlibrary loan as frankly book purchases lately have been just a bit out of control (mea culpa), and the bills for the next school year arrived recently.

So, to whomever recommended Hrabal, THANK YOU.

Too Loud a Solitude is about a man named Hanta whose job is to compact trash. He’s been doing this particular job for 35 years, and though it may see a completely mindless, even menial job, the glimmering light is that part of the trash he compacts contains books.  From this trash he extracts all sorts of volumes, bringing them home to add to the already huge piles of books in his home. He has books piled everywhere, even on a sagging shelf over his bed.  Hanta is enchanted by books:

“But just as a beautiful fish will occasionally sparkle in the waters 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 out the first sentence like a Homeric prophecy; then I place it carefully among my other splendid finds in a small crate lined with the holy cards someone once dropped into my cellar by mistake with a load of prayer books, and then comes my ritual, my mass: not only do I read every one  of those books, I take each and put it in a bale, because I have a need to garnish my bales, give them my stamp…”

Though Hanta’s boss thinks him an idiot, it very quickly becomes apparent he’s anything but that:

“I have a physical sense of myself as a bale of compacted books, the seat of a tiny pilot light of karma, like the flame in a gas refrigerator, an eternal flame I feed daily with the oil of my thoughts, which come from what I unwittingly read during work in the books I am now taking home in my briefcase.  So I walk home like a burning house, like a burning stable, the light of life pouring out of the fire, fire pouring out of the dying wood, hostile sorrow lingering under the ashes.”

A beautifully written little book.

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