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Total Fears: Selected Letters to Dubenka Paperback – 1998

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A Walk in the Woods
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Editorial Reviews


The publication of this book marks a major event ... As an addition to English Hrabalia, Total Fears is invaluable, and unlikely to be matched for some time. — The Prague Post

In Total Fears, Hrabal glancingly commends Freud's writing about comedy and jokes, and calls it "typically Central European, and especially typical of Prague." [...] This is blocked humour about blocked people. Hrabal, in Freud's terms, is a great humorist. — London Review of Books

Bohumil Hrabal at his most ecstatic, in the sense of almost religious fervor, full of the "mystic vision" of Eastern European writers. They are his dark night of the soul, his "Wasteland." Written from 1989 to 1992 (when Hrabal was 75), they are the sum of his fear and his shame. — Los Angeles Times

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Czech

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Twisted Spoon Press (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8090217192
  • ISBN-13: 978-8090217195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,245,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Total Fears takes the form of a series of letters to an American student before and during the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia. It is equal parts a love story, a personal memoir, and aching commentary on the fears Hrabal felt during the Communist regime as both a writer suppressed by the regime and fueled by it. Hrabal, a man of afterthoughts, writes his letters much as he does in his other works, in streams of consciousness. He moves from one topic to the next and then beautifully intertwines them. Though this book does not follow a traditional plot, it is traditional Hrabal, and moves the reader to see the extraordinary in history, love, and the conflict every one of us faces inside. I was truly moved by the book. While I do not consider it to be at the level of Too Loud A Solitude, perhaps Hrabal's most successful work, it is one of the warmest books I have read in quite some time. I highly recommend it!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Natalia O. Novikova on September 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
With these letters to Dubenka(or, himself) Hrabal shows us his total self: the alcoholism, the past dreams and memories, the day to day facade, the total fear in seeing his sad visage in the mirror every day; poetic prose, rambling ?Yes, but of a man who can tell a story and wrap it all together, all the threads into one coherent, beautiful tapestry. One of the scariest and beautiful books ever written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on July 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
... and a Great Human Being! Only a great human being could be so honest about himself, so openly ashamed and humiliated by a life of fear, proudly apologetic for a life of carousing, honestly diffident about his worth as a writer! Honest enough also to acknowledge that even these apparently candid memoirs have been retouched to meet his literary self-image! This book -- Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka -- is not rightfully a "whole". It's a small selection from three volumes published by Hrabal AFTER the Velvet Revolution, the displacement of Soviet Communism in Czechoslovakia: November Hurricane (1990), Subterranean Streams (1991), and The Rosenkavalier (1991). Those three books were in turn collected as Volume 13 - Letters to Dubenka - the the Czech edition of Harabal's complete writings. I now wait with bated breath for a full translation of that Volume, but meanwhile this 'sampler' is something rich and fine.

"Dubenka" was Hrabal's nickname for April Gifford, a young American woman who came to Prague as a student of Slavic literature and who became Hrabal's "late life muse". Her identity is subsumed in this book into the epistolary essays Hrabal addressed to her by way of extending his memoirs past the three autobiographical 'novels' he'd already written -- In-House Weddings, Vita Nuova, & Vacant Lots -- assigning the role of narrator to his own wife, Pipsi, whose death Hrabal mourns poignantly again and again to 'Miss April'. Born in 1914, Hrabal would have been 24 in 1938, 34 in 1948, and 74 in 1988, around the time when he met April Gifford. If these years don't ring any bells in your mind, as markers on a road of life through the nastiest century in human history, then you will certainly struggle with Hrabal's allusions in this book.
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