Harlequin’s Millionsby Bohumil Hrabal
Published May 2014
Paperback: $14.40 (20% off!) // eBook: $9.99
One of the last novels of Bohumil Hrabal – the writer whom Milan Kundera called Czechoslovakia’s greatest – Harlequin’s Millions is set in a castle converted into a home for the elderly, whose eccentric, unforgettable inhabitants exchange phantasmagoric stories about their lives and their changing country in an attempt to uphold sight of the world outside their confinement. Hrabal uses his aging protagonists to tell of Nymburk, the small Czech town in which he grew up, and explore the mythologizing power of memory. Poised on the threshold between joy and melancholy, this novel admits us into the mind of a woman coming to terms with the passing of time. Stacey Knecht’s translation brilliantly conveys Hrabal’s winding ecstatic sentences that capture the author’s flowing conversational style, described by James Wood as “anecdote without end”.
A word about Harlequin’s Millions from Ivan Vladislavić:
Hrabal is a master at using the roles, rules and atmospheres of a particular place – the railway station of Closely Observed Trains, the hotel dining rooms of I Served the King of England – to explore a world of human experience. In Harlequin’s Millions, the setting is a castle on the edge of a “town where time stood still,” formerly the seat of Count Špork, now a retirement home for the district’s pensioners. In this apparently confined space, he unfolds an expansive drama of old age and death, the fragile beauty of memory, and the persistence of desire. The book is infused with the memory of “old times” and a melancholy awareness of lost youth and faded beauty. Time does not stand still, it flows on relentlessly, and we carry the past with us only in stories. Hrabal’s light, cascading prose, with its resistant undercurrents of pauses, diversions and repetitions, is perfectly suited to his themes. He carries you along on a sensuous rush of detail, and then suddenly bumps you against the bedrock of history. This is a mesmerizing novel, beautifully translated.
Czechoslovakia's greatest living writer.
— Milan Kundera
Hrabal’s light, cascading prose, with its resistant undercurrents of pauses, diversions and repetitions, is perfectly suited to his themes. He carries you along on a sensuous rush of detail, and then suddenly bumps you against the bedrock of history. This is a mesmerizing novel, beautifully translated.
— Ivan Vladislavić
[A] uniquely compelling blend of parable, fantasy, social realism and testament to the power of storytelling. . . . the voice of the narrator is spellbinding, even as the reader becomes less sure of her credibility. . . . An enchanting novel, full of life, about the end of life.
— Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
...like that celebrated downer, “King Lear,” the novel leaves one not just shaken but exalted. Youth and age, health and sickness, past and present — these are life’s great polarities, and Bohumil Hrabal honors them all.
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
Hrabal started out as a surrealist poet, and his stories and novels are written in the form of prose poetry, which borders on surrealism while remaining highly readable. Like his literary idol, Jaroslav Hašek, the author of The Good Soldier Švejk, Hrabal recorded and made use of aimless, often coarse conversations overheard in Czech pubs. But unlike his cynical “older brother”, Hrabal juxtaposed this with lyricism and sentiment, dabbled in automatic writing, made verbal collages, switched from comedy to tragedy, and hopped between styles without warning. His vocabulary is as rich as that of James Joyce. The effect is magical and impossible to translate in its full beauty, though the translator…deserve[s] high praise.
— Zuzana Slobodová, The Times Literary Supplement
Bohumil Hrabal, for all reductive purposes, is the Czech Proust: meaning, he’s of the same stirring brilliance, but also meaning that Proust is the French Hrabal.
Billed as “a fairy tale,” the novel...fancifully confounds expectations: a visiting doctor’s lesson on classical music turns into a psychotic rampage, for example. And Hrabal’s long, lyrical sentences (each chapter consists of a single paragraph) are not only exquisitely constructed, but also as spirited as the scenes they illustrate.
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Hrabal combines good humour and hilarity with tenderness and a tragic sense of his country's history.
— The Observer
This is a gorgeous, fearful tale about the brutal march of time and a celebration of the audacious vivacity that leads some to cling to love and memory despite it.
— Michelle Anne Schlinger (ForeWord Reviews)
Those readers who are familiar with Hrabal, an author touted in and outside of the Czech Republic as one of the great writers of the 20th Century, will relish in revisiting characters from his previous works, but new readers will have a fine introduction to the stylings of one of literature’s most noted writers.
— Ariell Cacciola, Monkeybicycle
His realism is a kind of gentle hysteria; his world is undeniably ours but rendered through what pretends to be unbridled, aimless speech. It is kindled speech, Hrabal seems to be telling us, that creates the reality and for this reason he has no taste for conventional novelistic telling. His generosity is the access to actuality as it rises up in language. Here lie the pleasure and the beauty.
— Ron Slate, On the Seawall
Praise for I Served the King of England:
A comic novel of great inventiveness . . . charming, wise, and sad—and an unexpectedly good laugh.
— Philadelphia Inquirer
An extraordinary and subtly tragicomic novel.
— The New York Times
A joyful, picaresque story, which begins with Baron Munchausen-like adventures and ends in tears and solitude.
— James Wood, The London Review of Books
Dancing Lessons unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence. The gambit works. Something about that slab of wordage carries the eye forward, promising an intensity unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.
— Ed Park, The New York Times Book Review
Praise for The Little Town Where Time Stood Still:
There are pages of queer magic unlike anything else currently being done with words.
— The Guardian
Hrabal is a most sophisticated novelist, with a gusting humour and a hushed tenderness of detail.
— Julian Barnes
Praise for Too Loud a Solitude:
Short, sharp and eccentric. Sophisticated, thought-provoking and pithy.
Unmissable, combines extremes of comedy and seriousness, plus pathos, slapstick, sex and violence all stirred into one delicious brew.
— The Guardian
In imaginative riches and sheer exhilaration it offers more than most books twice its size. At once tender and scatological, playful and sombre, moving and irresistibly funny.
— The Independent on Sunday
Read an excerpt in Asymptote Journal.
Translator Stacey Knecht wrote about her connection to Hrabal and his work for the blog Slavische Studies. Read it here.
Browse which of his works have been adapted to film at the Czech Film Center.
A great review of Harlequins Millions by Pierre Joris following Hrabal’s 100th birthday.