Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This little novella can, at once, be discarded as a long, never-ending chapter on corporeal pursuits from the life book of a mindless rambler, a libidinous exhorter, a senile raconteur. And for some part, one might be right in doing so. If disaster has struck you due to your prolonged exposure to the skin junk processed and reprocessed on electronic and print media, you might not be cajoled to hold back even for a second from trashing this, their way.
But despite my reservations, I sat next to this babbler and listened. And as he wed thoughts with words, opinions with ridicule, humor with cantankerousness and malice with gravity, all within an unrelenting, single sentence spanning 110 pages, my jaws dropped; just not at the sight of his audacity to obscenely titillate his listener’s senses but also at the reservoir of concern churning tirelessly underneath this doltish kitsch.
No? You don’t believe me? Hear this:
“…when I was serving in the most elegant army in the world I told our medical officer, Doctor, I said, I’ve got a weak heart, but all he said was, So have I, boy, and if we had a hundred thousand like you we could conquer the world, and he put me into the highest category, so I was a hero…”
Just an aberration, is it? Well then, how about this?
“…or the Russians, who are jetting the world so fast that they have to put their brakes the moment they take off and one speed engineer says that the time is near when a jet will see its own tail flying around the earth and passengers won’t even have a chance to sit down before arrival, they might as well stay home..”
‘Oh, he is mild’, did you say? Not when you come across this:
“…oh it’s nice enough when two young people rush upto each other and clasp hands and whatever else there is to clasp, though that kind of thing is more exciting to clothed nations, naked nations are less lecherous…”
And he certainly doesn’t try to be approving when he declares:
“…once tried to do splits with a beauty in the Catholic House and gave myself a hernia, which isn’t so bad for a man makes anything look good…”
A feeling of rebellious delight comes upon me on encountering souls that purposely bleat or act comic in the worldly eyes just so they can enrage every cell of their innards and rack every remnant to life, launching them as missiles, oozing precision and inflicting damage out of every inked word onto a world reeling under war, oppression, anarchy, discrimination and injustice.
And you can rest your doubts of misogynist jibes dotting this work should they come disturbing you courtesy the lascivious nature of this unnamed narrator. The enthusiastic inclusion of many snapshots, depicting women in equal roles of freedom and power, the bread-earner and decision-maker, cements the earnestness with which Hrabal offers his disdain, not without tints of hope. Like the unsettling maxim, ‘So it goes’ in Slaughterhouse-Five, there is a chilling adage sewn in this work as well,
“.. so, I was the hero..”
While it appears he penned these 5 words from a room painted in the darkest shades of satire (and rightfully so), I might have to disappoint him for buying it, on face value. And to draw him into my team and stopping short of antagonizing him, I might just turn his quote, on him, in sly uproar:
“…I’d pray all night for God to come and empty a cartload of wood on top of him, which must be why Bondy the poet says that real poetry must hurt, as you’d forgotten you wrapped a razor blade in your handkerchief and you blow your nose, no book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep, it’s meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author’s brains out…”
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