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Twisted Spoon Press

PO Box 21 - Preslova 12, 150 00 Prague 5, Czech Republic

Book details:
Total Fears

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"The World and the Trousers of Samuel Beckett"

other work by the author

from TSP:

The Tender Barbarian

from others:
Closely Watched Trains
Too Loud a Solitude
I Served the King of England
The Little Town Where Time Stood Still
In-House Weddings
Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age
Harlequin's Millions
Murder Ballads & Other Legends

  total fears
Selected Letters to Dubenka

by Bohumil Hrabal

translated from the Czech by James Naughton

In these letters written to April Gifford (Dubenka) between 1989 and 1991 but never sent, Bohumil Hrabal (1914-97) chronicles the momentous events of those years as seen, more often than not, from the windows of his favorite pubs. In his palavering, stream-of-conscious style that has marked him as one of the major writers and innovators of postwar European literature, Hrabal gives a humorous and at times moving account of life in Prague under Nazi occupation, Communism, and the brief euphoria following the revolution of 1989 when anything seemed possible, even pink tanks. Interspersed are fragmented memories of trips taken to Britain — as he attempted to track down every location mentioned in Eliot’s “The Waste Land” — and the United States, where he ends up in one of Dylan Thomas’s haunts comparing the waitresses to ones he knew in Prague. The result is a masterful blend of personal history and fee association rendered in a prose as powerful as it is poetic.


In “Total Fears,” Hrabal opens a window onto the shabby and corrosive good cop/bad cop act played upon him by authorities in those years. He describes the lures and petty traps and snares deployed by those in power in excruciating detail – and unmasks the useless deceptions behind them. Pressures to inform. Books cancelled. Films abandoned. [...] Hrabal’s willingness to explore the utter humiliations and failures of a great writer tangled up in the worst of history is what makes “Total Fears” a crucial document. It is not a brave story. That is the point. [...] Yet there is immense courage in "Total Fears." It is Hrabal's last great reckoning with his own story – told with his literary genius, warts and all.

—Richard Byrne, The Wilson Quarterly

The publication of this book marks a major event ... As an addition to English Hrabalia, Total Fears is invaluable, and unlikely to be matched for some time.

The Prague Post

The conditions under which Hrabal created [his] oeuvre, the final lifting with the collapse of Communism in 1989 and their grievous, indestructible memory, are all recorded, along with visits to Britain and "the Delighted States" in an extraordinary series of half-imaginary letters to "Dubenka" — a visiting American student who made a great impression on Hrabal ... It is quick, rambling, spoken, but purposeful writing.

— Michael Hofmann, The TLS

In Total Fears, Hrabal glancingly commends Freud's writing about comedy and jokes, and calls it "typically Central European, and especially typical of Prague." [...] This is blocked humour about blocked people. Hrabal, in Freud's terms, is a great humorist.

— James Wood, London Review of Books

Bohumil Hrabal at his most ecstatic, in the sense of almost religious fervor, full of the "mystic vision" of Eastern European writers. They are his dark night of the soul, his "Wasteland." Written from 1989 to 1992 (when Hrabal was 75), they are the sum of his fear and his shame. Fear born in utero when his grandfather pretended to shoot Hrabal's pregnant mother just to teach her a lesson; fear that lasted through his life of many revolutions, uprisings and his own persecution by Nazis and the secret police during Alexander Dubcek's government. Shame at being a writer; shame for being afraid and playing along with the secret police; shame at being enthralled with the "Delighted States" when his country was in upheaval in 1968 and again in the late 1980s.

— Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

The present translated collection gives the impression of a unified body of work, written with a consistent style and voice and concentrating on particular themes. The style will be familiar to readers of Hrabal: a stream of consciousness reflection presenting a poetic train of associations ...

The New Presence


ISBN 9788090217195
204 pp.
14 x 20 cm
softcover with flaps
literature • essays
RRP: $16 • £10

cover image by
Vladimír Boudník

release date:
May 1998

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