Recommendation

Myla Goldberg on Bruno Schulz and Bohumil Hrabal

Talking about just one writer is no fun, so instead I'll babble a bit about two of my favorite dead Eastern Europeans: Bruno Schulz and Bohumil Hrabal.  First, Bruno Schulz. There are only two slim collections of short stories—Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass—but boy are they gorgeous. The man spent practically his entire life in the small town of Drohobycz, Poland, a place that, like him, no longer exists. He makes the banal mythic, turning his tailor-father and his shop into a magical, beautiful, and often fearful place with a life of its own. Imaginative, evocative, imagistic, and sensual prose. Though Bohumil Hrabal is probably best known for Closely Watched Trains, my two favorites are Too Loud a Solitude and I Served the King of England, the former about a paper compactor, the latter about a midget who, among other things, works as a waiter during the German occupation of WWII. Both are humorous, dark, human novels which take place in unusual and unexpected corners of existence. Hrabal stays unpredictable, unpretentious, and bitingly smart. Both of these guys have feet firmly in the Kafka camp, another reason I probably like them so much.