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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vita Nuova

Bohumil Hrabal

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To purchase Vita Nuova

Title: Vita Nuova
Author: Bohumil Hrabal
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 233 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Vita Nuova - US
Vita Nuova - UK
Vita Nuova - Canada
in Les noces dans la maison - France
in Hochzeiten im Hause - Deutschland
  • Czech title: Vita nuova
  • Translated by Tony Liman
  • Vita Nuova is the second volume in Hrabal's autobiographical trilogy

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Our Assessment:

B+ : slight shift in style, but continued (auto)biographical charm

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Zeit . 9/4/1994 Martin Lüdke

  From the Reviews:
  • "(B)uchstäblich ohne Punkt und Komma erzählt. Man gewöhnt sich, überraschend schnell, daran. Und der geübte Hrabal Leser erwartet es eigentlich nicht anders von seinen schon sprichwörtlich gewordenen Bauern, diesen tschechischen Schwätzern der Sonderklasse. Nur - die Bafler zählen zu Hrabals Anfängen, das vorliegende Buch aber, buchhalterisch gesehen, muß zum Spätwerk gerechnet werden, wiewohl es vor allem, umständlich, ausführlich, von den Anfängen erzählt." - Martin Lüdke, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Vita Nuova is the second volume in Hrabal's autobiographical trilogy, in which he presents his life as seen through the eyes of his wife, Eliška ('Pipsi'). This volume comes with a short preface of sorts, in which Hrabal explains why he wrote the book (more or less) without punctuation. Though divided into chapters (i.e. clear-cut breaks in the text) and with plenty of ellipses (...) -- less omission than allowing the sentences to wordlessly peter out -- and new sentence (fragments ?) that begin with the first word capitalized, Vita Nuova is presented as one long monologue of sorts. Hrabal says he wrote it: "in one long inhalation and exhalation", and it does have that near-breathless sort of feel to it; nevertheless, its episodic presentation -- and Pipsi's voice -- do ground the text in the more traditional. Hrabal suggests that many readers practice a sort of "diagonal reading" -- a skimming "crosswise probe of the pages" -- and he writes accordingly ("I allowed myself the luxury of diagonal reading a priori").
       This installment of the autobiography describes the first decades of the Hrabals married life, leading also to Hrabal's first: "chance to become a champion writer" (with the collection Larks on a String) -- and the predictable outcome (the chief editor berating the editor in charge, and demanding: "Destroy the typeset immediately and tear up the author's contract"). Hrabal's writing-passion is again central -- he's constantly clacking away on his typewriter ("he played that machine like an instrument it was grown into him like an artificial kidney like a pacemaker") -- and his hopes of becoming a (published and successful) writer stronger. He knows: "all it takes is one little book just a little missive".
       There's also a good deal about his intellectual friends and their conversations, and the art that influences and moves them (including by foreign writers and painters). Amusingly, Pipsi keeps things down to earth by enervating them with her needlepoint and kitsch-patterns (and she (i.e. he) claims: "The sole reason I did needlepoint was because I knew it sent my husband round the bend"), a corrective to keep intellectualism from encroaching all too far. It's a curious mix of frustration and appreciation that Hrabal harps on with repeated examples of Pipsi simply not getting the higher arts:

I intentionally washed dishes and sometimes washed them twice out of frustration because I didn't understand those symphonic epics and I didn't understand when my husband tried to explain it when he tried to draw me into the beauty of that symphony music by quoting T.S.Eliot the author of The Wasteland
       Nostalgia also remains pervasive, Pipsi recognizing:
he was in fact a child of his time a reflection of the environment in which he lived and come to think of it so was I ...
       She writes: "My husband's past revisited him in installments" -- a past often: "so alive and so painful". It is, of course, also the basis of much of his writing, as he dwells upon it in revisiting it.
       Hrabal sees and presents himself as a restless man here -- "he always wanted to be someplace other than where he was" -- in this curious but revealing self-portrait. This volume has a similar charm to the first, In-House Weddings, though communism has hardened here, and it is less the losses that came with and after World War II that weigh on the characters but rather the oppression found in this society. Hrabal and his friends manage to be relatively free spirits; nevertheless, there are moments when the system catches up with them -- whether it is Hrabal thinking he will be published or, for example, in a scene of the demolition of a synagogue.
       Enjoyable and certainly insightful, Vita Nuova is part of a trilogy and best read as such; the trilogy as a whole isn't a bad introduction to Hrabal, but it also gains from familiarity with his work, as this is hinted at and echoed throughout these volumes.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 January 2011

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Vita Nuova: Reviews: Bohumil Hrabal: Other books by Bohumil Hrabal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Bohumil Hrabal lived 1914 to 1997.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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