Closely Watched Trains

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Northwestern University Press, 1995 - Fiction - 85 pages
1 Review
Hrabal's postwar classic about a young man's coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Milos Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains fly by, he torments himself with the suspicion that he himself is being watched and with fears of impotency. Hrma finally affirms his manhood and, with a sense of peace and purpose he has never known before, heroically confronts a trainload of Nazis.

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About the author (1995)

Hrabal worked as a lawyer, clerk, railwayman, traveling salesman, steelworker, and laborer before turning to literature in 1962. In his tragic-comic novels and short stories he concentrates on the everyday lives of ordinary people. Thomas Lask says, "Hrabal shows an offbeat, original mind, a fey imagination and a sure hand in constructing his tales" (N.Y. Times Bk. Review). Hrabal's novel Closely Watched Trains (1965) was made into an internationally successful movie.

Edith Pargeter was born in Horsehay, Shropshire. She was a chemist's assistant from 1933 to 1940 and participated during World War II in the Women's Royal Navy Service. She adopted the pseudonym "Ellis Peters" to clearly mark a division between her mystery stories and her other work. Her brother was Ellis and Petra was a friend from Czechoslovakia, thus the name. She came to writing mysteries, she says, "after half a lifetime of novel-writing." Her detective fiction features well-rounded, knowledgeable characters with whom the reader can empathize. Pargeter started writing seriously for publication while gathering useful information on medicines that she would draw upon later when tackling crime stories. Her first published novel was Hortensius, friend of Nero (1936), a rather dry tale of martyrdom that was not a great success but she persevered and The City Lies Foursquare (1939) was much more warmly received. Her most famous literary creation is the medieval monk Brother Cadfael. Peters received the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award in 1963 and the Crime Writers Association's Silver Dagger Award in 1981.

Josef Skvorecky was born in Nachod, Czechoslovakia on September 27, 1924. Under Nazi occupation, he was forced to work in an aircraft factory. He later read Philosophy at Charles University in Prague. He worked for the state publishing house, helping to translate books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler. He began to write detective stories featuring Lieutenant Boruvka, which became popular with Czech readers. In 1958, his novel The Cowards was published and then banned on the grounds that it was "Titoist and Zionist." He and his wife moved to Canada after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring. They founded 68 Publishers in 1971, which released more than 200 books by exiled Czech authors and those banned by the communists. Skvorecky's other written works include Miss Silver's Past, The Engineer of Human Souls, and The Miracle Game. In 1980, he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He taught at the University of Toronto. He died on January 3, 2012 at the age of 87.

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