THE BOOK OF HRABAL by Peter Esterhazy


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 Noted Hungarian writer Esterh†zy (Helping Verbs of the Heart, 1990) pays homage to Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal in a deceptively whimsical novel that addresses deadly serious questions with stylistic panache and intellectual verve. While Anna, mother of three and wife of a failed avant-garde Hungarian writer, composes imaginary letters to the noted Hrabal, two angels sitting in a parked car keep watch outside her house. Their surveillance, though it recalls the behavior of the former communist regime, has a more benign intent: They have been sent by God to prevent Anna from aborting her fourth pregnancy. The questions of abortion, man's relation to God, and life under the communists provide underlying gravitas to a tale that at times is almost giddily playful. In her correspondence with Hrabal, Anna recalls her childhood, the communist takeover of Hungary, and the 1956 uprising and its aftermath, as well as her first meeting with her future husband, her difficult relationship with her mother, and the contrasting warm affection she bore her mother-in-law. In her final letter, she confesses that she no longer loves her husband and that, overwhelmed by her responsibilities, she understands at last, ``there is no one to take care of me, it's me, taking care of them all.'' Anna also likes to sing the blues, and the novel pays affectionate tribute to that genre's immortal songs and artists. Even God, musically inept despite saxophone lessons from the late Charlie Parker, in desperation picks up Parker's sax to prevent Anna from having the abortion: ``He bit the mouthpiece and blew into the tube, he knew right away it was no good, like blowing his nose, hopelessly bad, not a little or a lot, but fundamentally.'' More a brilliant riff on meaning and music than a sustained story, but there's still much to admire--and enjoy.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8101-1192-6
Page count: 168pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994


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