Wednesday, December 17, 2008

book clubbing in December

For this round of book club selections, we decided to include some riskier, more literary titles. Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude was scheduled for December, mostly because it is short and wouldn't be too daunting a read in the midst of all the holiday craziness. I was looking forward to rereading it, but had no idea how it'd go over with the other members of the book club.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Too Loud a Solitude is a short, but powerful book. It is the story of Hanta, a man who has spent his entire working life compacting wastepaper. Though he saves books when he can (his apartment is packed with three tons of books), he's weighed down by the loss of knowledge and the innocent lives of the mice he's accidentally compacted, but also by the hopelessness of his (and their collective) life.

Hrabal's rhythmic, repetitive prose offers vivid descriptions of the world in which our protagonist lives. A world where the heavens are not humane, where academics clean the sewers and loved ones can disappear without a trace.

But, in as much as Too Loud a Solitude is the story of a love affair with the written word, it is filled with eloquent descriptions of reading, the first of which appears on the novella's very first page: "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 liqueur 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" (1-2).

The dark worldview and lack of plot were the turn-offs for some book club members. That being said, I do think that Too Loud a Solitude generated a very good discussion. We discussed how the book is typical of central/eastern European literature of this period, what we as Western readers may have lost in context, how we related to the protagonist, what appealed to and repulsed us about the narrative, and how the protagonist quietly rebelled through his work.

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