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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Bohemian Youth

Josef Hiršal

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To purchase A Bohemian Youth

Title: A Bohemian Youth
Author: Josef Hiršal
Genre: Novel
Written: (1980/83) (Eng. 1997)
Length: 85 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: A Bohemian Youth - US
A Bohemian Youth - UK
A Bohemian Youth - Canada
A Bohemian Youth - India
Bohême bohême - France
Böhmische Boheme - Deutschland
  • Czech title: Píseň mládí
  • Translated by Michael Henry Heim
  • Written and first circulated in 1980, but only published in Czech in 1991.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : small, clever, charming

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Literature Today . Fall/1999 Peter Z. Schubert

  From the Reviews:
  • "The author ironically evokes the atmosphere of idyll and Biedermeier sentiment and contrasts it with the rough reality of the contemporary village. It is here that Michael Henry Heim falls short. While his translation reads well, the atmosphere of the original is not there. It is not easy to render the specific language of the time, but the sentiments could certainly be preserved. (...) (T)he unusual form of the book alone and its social-historical qualities make A Bohemian Youth well worth reading." - Peter Z. Schubert, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Bohemian Youth would be well-suited for hypertext presentation: the 'story' proper -- little more than a memoir of earliest childhood -- is a mere seven pages long, but it is followed by a section of (end-) notes (57 in all), which in turn is followed by a section of probably a hundred 'Notes to the Notes' -- the longest of which rival the original story in length. It concludes nicely with a single 'Note to the Notes to the Notes' (a coda added in 1983).
       Hypertext presentation would allow easier clicking back and forth between the text and the layers of notes, but even in bound form the presentation works well enough. Hiršal does offer 'A Word to the Wise' to open the book, describing it as a "simple burlesque" and suggesting the book can be read straight through. It can -- though some notes probably require the reader to turn back to see what they refer to -- and even if the narrative as a whole isn't quite cohesive, flowing account, the big picture -- of the person, family, place, and times -- comes across.
       A Bohemian Youth describes just that, offering details of family, childhood, and the locals and locale. The notes allow for elaboration, explaining some of the details and showing things in different lights as the narrator also looks back from farther ahead. In them Hiršal moves considerably beyond the narrow time-frame of the basic text.
       The base-story is, in fact, also not truly authentic experience, focussed as it is on his parents and his birth, and three early -- as he describes them -- memories of specific memories.
       The piecemeal presentation makes for an almost photo-album approach, as not everything is connected, as disparate events and people are introduced in often at very best a loose order. It makes for an effective life-picture -- especially since the focus is on a small part of it, his youth. (In fact, A Bohemian Youth is only the first small part of a much larger project, but none of the volumes that followed have been translated into English.)
       The small parts, the glimpses of the life and the times, are also very appealing; overall, it may seem more work than many readers might want to go in for, but it isn't that arduous (or irritating -- and the book is very short), and worth the effort.

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A Bohemian Youth: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czechoslovak author Josef Hiršal lived 1920 to 2003.

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