113“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.”

So says Hanta on the first page of Too Loud a Solitude, a novella by  Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997).

What more could any writer wish than to have such a reader?

And, too,  the words are so vivid as to create the very physical sensations of which he speaks.

I considered posting the sentence with only a simple “wow,” but  found myself wanting to know more about these words and their context.

I was in for a surprise.

This happy sentence, chock full of the delights of discovery (and the savoring of it) stands out in the novella as brilliantly as a diamond—not so much for the quality of its construction or insight (for that is superb throughout), but in its brightness of mood. Too Loud A Solitude is full of oppression and darkness and even the putrid. And dark humor: drollery was perhaps the only jest possible in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

It Hanta’s job to gather wastepaper dumped through a hole in the pavement above him and load it into a compactor to form bales for transport to a paper factory. It is a life of discarded old newspapers and magazines, used tissues, and blood- and offal-soaked sheets from the slaughterhouse.  Among the debris, however, he finds great and rare books thrown away with the rest of it. He saves and absorbs them, then stacks them in his little apartment until they threaten to collapse and bury him under their weight.

He is an intellect and artist in his own right, though, for he gives his bales their own secret souls: a copy of Foust or Guernica or some important book by Hegel or Goethe placed at their very center, opened to a page with some particular insight. And he “garnishes” his bales with beauty, arranging them so that they emerge boasting the waste-paper poster art of Rembrandt or Monet or Gustav Klimt.

His is a dark and dim, fatalistic little life, but not one that passes without his noting it all, and in the process giving us lessons in the nature of human beings (not to mention sewer rats) along the way.

Too Loud a Solitude is a brief but potent read, and I recommend it. It is not what one might expect from the brilliant quote above, but many of the images Hrabel has painted with his words will remain with me for some time to come.

J. S. Anderson

Photo by J. S. Anderson. Detail, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, WA



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