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Closely Watched Trains (European Classics) Paperback – March 9, 1995


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Product Details

  • Series: European Classics
  • Paperback: 85 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press; Reprint edition (March 9, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810112787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810112780
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Czech

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By IVAN JIMENEZ CORREAL on May 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a tale about heroism of ordinary people, not about epic feats. You won't find here but common people, and that's what makes the tale so touching and realistic. The book is beautiful and is beautifully written, with a sober yet elegant and poetic style. The trains are an essential part of all the characters'lives in their jobs and their personal memories, and are related to the fight of Czechs partisans at the end of the II World War, which is the time the novel is placed. The novel is both dramatic and comic, and Hrabal's sense of humour is one of his most remarkable features, following the best tradition of Czech's Literature, particularly Jaroslav Hasek. The mixture of drama and comedy, as well as the human touch and tenderness which envelops the characters makes this novel very moving to every reader. This work is a little and brilliant jewel, definitely worth the trouble reading.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on May 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Watched Train is a beautiful book whose lingering impact on the reader is greater than one would suspect from looking at its length - 85 pages. It is the story of a young man, Milos Hrma, an apprentice signalman in a Czech village railway station during WWII. The term closely "watched trains" refers to German military (soliers, prisoners, and munitions) trains that must be watched, tracked closely to ensure a smooth passage. Failure results in close (and often deadly) scrutiny by the Gestapo. As the story it unfolds that young Milos had recently attempted suicide after his first sexual experience ends disastrously. The scars on his wrist reflect the internal scars and humiliation suffered as a result of his sexual failure. The rest of the book focuses on his desire to achieve manhood, by means of a succesful sexual conquest or through some "other" means. Milos' quest is ultimately succesful yet with tragic consequences. An act of simple heroism marks the story's climax. Along the way Milos has a near fatal encounter with a Gestapo officer after an incident involving a closely watched train. The understated description of this encounter is a brilliant piece of writing as the officer and Milos closely watch each other's scars before the officer decides to spare his life. The above summary does not do justice to the concise, sparse tone of Hrabal's prose that conveys great depths of meaning in the course of the story's simple narrative.
This is a beautiful story, beautifully told. I also recommend the movie (available on Amazon)after reading the book. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1966. The screenplay was written by Hrabal and altough not totally faithful to the book's narrative it is well acted and serves as a nice complement to the book.
I strongly recommend this book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
A basis for a 1967 Oscar winning movie (dir. jiri Menzel) Hrabal's book is drawing a parallel between the loss of innocence of a youth Milos Hrma, and the Czech people during WW II. The experiences of Milos, an apprentice with a small railway station in the middle of Bohemia, tells you more about the role of Czech people, collaborateurs, middlemen, resistors, under the German occupation than an Encyclopedia. Beautifully written, in the best Central European tradition of irony and self-deprecation.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on September 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Hrabal's short novella "Closely Observed Trains" (the title under which it is published in Britain)is set in a railway station in a small town in Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1945. Although the war is coming to an end, the country is still under German occupation, and the book's title refers to the special military trains which need to be kept under close guard as they travel to the front.

The central character, Milos Hrma, is a young apprentice traffic controller, and the opening scenes of the book tend towards the comic, as Milos describes the attempts of his colleagues to get on with their everyday lives, seemingly oblivious to the historic events taking place around them. Milos's boss, Station-Master Lansky, is a ridiculous figure, obsessed with promoting himself both in the social hierarchy (he lays claim to aristocratic lineage) and in the hierarchy of the Czech railway system. Despite his eagerness for promotion, however, he pays more attention to his hobby of pigeon breeding than he does to the requirements of his job. Lansky's subordinate, Dispatcher Hubicka, is equally neglectful of his duties, although his main obsession is pursuing women; he is facing disciplinary proceedings for the offence of misusing Government property by using the station's official stamps to decorate the backside of an attractive young female telegraphist.

As the story progresses, it takes on a darker tone. We learn that Milos has recently returned to work after three months in hospital following an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. The cause of this attempt was depression brought on by impotence and his inability to consummate his relationship with his girlfriend.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Aleksandra Nita-Lazar on October 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Hrabal's short novella "Closely watched trains" is a delight. In English translation it has just about 90 pages, yet in these 90 pages a story is told, which could be extended to an Oscar-winning movie and is an absolute masterpiece.

Milos Hrma, the main protagonist and narrator, is a railway apprentice during World War II in the German-occupied Czechoslovakia. He is in love with Masha, the ticket controller and his whole life is centered at the provincial railway station with the supervisor Lansky, whose passion are pigeons and ambition - to became accepted into aristocracy, and the promiscuous dispatcher Hubicka, Milos' teacher and role model.
The book starts with some family history and moves back and forth in time, as Milos recalls the events that led to his suicide attempt (from which he just recovered). As the story develops, we get to know the solution to his problem. We get from the light to the serious matters and back in the matter of a few pages. The prose is condensed and rich, evoking powerful imagery with few words.

The character of Milos is as complicated and full of contrasts as only the youth can be - he is innocent, insecure, romantic, silly, but incredibly brave at the same time.

The bittersweet Czech humor is here at its greatest, as well as the typical melancholy, which together with Hrabal's mastery of the language and his great observations and criticism of the national character, war circumstances from the perspective of the remote town, and the emotional turmoil of the protagonist, give the amazing mix, which will never get outdated and always be a pleasure to read - in other words, a perennial classic.
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