Not until we're totally crushed do we show what we are made of. (96)
This is a book which length can be quite deceiving. Nonetheless, this novella has the predictable ability of leading the path towards something rather extraordinary: a bibliophile's sanctuary.
This was a difficult book to rate. At first, it was a solid four-star book. But I chose to overlook the few passages that did not captivate me entirely and made me feel somewhat lost at times (yes, the more I think about it, the more I write about it and absorb its content, the more I like it). I tend to blame myself, anyway. Haňťa, the narrator, would understand.
My education has been so unwitting I can't quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that's how I've stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. (6)
For thirty-five years, Haňťa has been working in a basement, compacting wastepaper and books proscribed by the current regime. Other than the company of some fighting mice and some gypsies, he is mostly alone in his sacred cellar. A place where he became a refined butcher, where he mastered the art of destruction, where he learnt the joy of devastation. However, he cannot destroy everything that arrives to his cellar. So he puts some books in his briefcase and takes them to his house, a place already filled with towers of books that may kill him at the slightest sneeze.
...when I start reading, I'm somewhere completely different, I'm in the text, it's amazing, I have to admit I've been dreaming, dreaming in a land of great beauty, I've been in the very heart of truth. Ten times a day, every day, I wonder at having wandered so far, and then, alienated from myself, a stranger to myself, I go home, walking the streets silently and in deep meditation, passing trams and cars and pedestrians in a cloud of books, the books I found that day and am carrying home in my briefcase. (11)
And that is all I can say about this book filled with symbolism flowing with different rhythms, like the unpredictable behavior of the sea. This sequence of thoughts of an old man that chose, all by himself, how his love story was going to end. Poignant thoughts that left an indelible imprint in me. Evocative lines that echo his past, his benevolent present, the desperate sense of resignation of his future. His childhood, his loved ones, his doubts, his humorous remarks that assist you when despair is too much to bear, his visions, his simple way of life, his celebration to the essence of ideas that prevail over time and defy any living soul, his impressions on a world which absurdity goes beyond imagination.
No, the heavens are not humane, nor is any man with a head on his shoulders. (35)
And his loss. The tragedy of being violently separated from everything that gave him joy. The sum and substance of his existence. After having the pleasure of tasting such elusive elixir, one cannot help but to immerse in profound meditations. Frozen. The contradiction between a motionless body and a restlessly working mind. But Haňťa knew. He always knew. Blinded—momentarily—by the sun of things to come, Haňťa, the rescuer of defenseless books, the one with a loud solitude far away from any lonely thought, the one with the pleasure of listening to the everlasting tune of thousands of books, always knew what to do. The blissful quietness of having no regrets.
'For we are like olives: only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us.' (18)
Hrabal, Haňťa. Anyone of us. Anyone in love with literature, with ideas in the form of a book.
Solitude brings to me these walls made of silence and dreams. And it is just us. This space is for us. The book and me. I hear my voice in my mind, repeating every word, processing every idea, savoring every sound. For most of Hrabal's lines are music, and I listened to it dazzled, bewildered like a child in front of a magic pipe. A melody that ignites imagination and creates an unforgettable sense of belonging. The melody of those books to which we hold onto so dearly.
The melody I will be always listening to, even when surrounded by, sometimes, too silent a solitude.
En una secuencia de pensamientos similar a la de esta obra, termino rememorando libros pasados, escritores que me aliviaron, personajes que me acompañaron. Líneas que, desde una inicial soledad nada ruidosa, me abrieron al mundo. Una soledad que terminó poblada con todas las voces de ese mundo. Voces que calman. Voces que perturban. Palabras que no me dejan y que las repito para que nunca me dejen. Así, saboreando cada término, como si fuera el último. Aferrándome a cada sonido, como si fuera mío. Deleitándome con la similitud del sentimiento sin tener en cuenta el tiempo.
Tiempo que pasa.
Tiempo que ahoga.
Tiempo que sana, de vez en cuando.
Termino con el libro sobre mí. Con la mente más inquieta que nunca, embarcada en una oda a esa literatura trascendental que llegó acá; desafiante, segura. Deseosa de miradas nuevas. Creadora de suspiros que evocan eternidad.
Mis disculpas a las personas de habla inglesa que a veces se dan una vuelta por este sur olvidado. Pero, después de leer esta conmovedora novela corta de Hrabal, ¿cómo no culminar esta marea de palabras sin sentido, abrazada a mi idioma?
Enamorados perpetuos del lenguaje. Sus palabras. Sus sonidos. Sus significados. Las historias que construyen. Las emociones que transmiten. El contenido sobre la forma. La escritura sobre la tapa. Coleccionistas de libros, de recuerdos, de vidas ajenas. Vidas ajenas, para entender la propia. Entender, en las cantidades que la existencia misma permite.
Todo aquello que provoca ruido y que hace de la soledad, algo menos envolvente.