I Served the King of England [Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále]


You know how there’s these books – corner stones, sort of – that you’re supposed to like and/or to display some kind of deep and meaningful thoughts towards? Well, this is one of them.

Except that I have absolutely zero insight and/or meaningful thoughts. I read the book on the bus & I read it in the English translations – and these are probably the most important extrinsic factors that have contributed to my not liking it. The intrinsic one – well, I just didn’t speak to me. (like I said, no meaningful thoughts here)

Actually, I didn’t dislike it either – I just didn’t care. Some guy whose name I’m already forgetting (Jan Dítě – with the proper spelling from wikipedia) grows up working around hotels and dreaming of becoming rich. He does a bit of petty thieving, but at the same time he changes many jobs and meets quirky characters along the way (including his erstwhile mentor, Mr. Skřivánek who claims to have served the king of England and the Emperor of Ethiopia whom he himself has the honor of serving), marries into a Nazi family during the occupation of Czechoslovakia, has a retarded son (instead of the pureblood arian offspring his wife was dreaming of), gets accidentally arrested and finally manages to obtain his goal of owning a famous hotel. This was the uphill – now for the downhill: he goes to some “millionaire’s prison” (where in fact he offers himself as a prisoner only out of the desire to be equal to all the other Prague hotel owners), he losses everything (including his youth dreams, when he realises he will never be respected because all he did was live off a war that destroyed everyone else – and they don’t even know about the valuable stamps his wife stole from a imprisoned Jew that constitute the basis of his new found wealth) and he finally retires in the wilderness, with a small horse, a goat, a dog and a cat (appreciating the important things in life, as it were).

It all feels very picaresque, and I stopped caring for that when I was 15. It’s also supposed to be comic, but I didn’t even smile. And I get where the funny, ironic, satiric & symbolic are – and I also get why it’s an important book – but it just didn’t strike a chord with me.

Bonus annoying thing: the overly repeated phrase “how the unbelievable came true”. Is it the translation that’s weird, or the expression itself? Or me? 😉

I tried to find a decent review – but most of what I got is about the 2006 movie (well liked apparently) and only a couple of blogs about the book.

Yeah, I really phoned it in this time, sorry ’bout that. 😀


~ by ameer on March 11, 2009.

2 Responses to “I Served the King of England [Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále]”

  1. Could try reading it in Romanian. Here’s my decent review: http://www.bookblog.ro/x-mihaela-butnaru/l-am-servit-pe-regele-angliei/ . Enjoy!

  2. Ugh, I’m reading it now – also the English translation – and I feel like slapping myself for not reading Hrabal earlier! I simply love it; everything about it, especially the translation 🙂 Anyways, I’m more a story type of person, that why I think we’re a perfect match (me and this book, ofc! :)) ).

    As I always say (ah, this sounds so sage!): cati cititori, atatea gusturi 🙂

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