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Bohumil Hrabal: Postřižiny (Cutting it Short)

As is normal for Hrabal, there is not much of a plot in this short novel. The story is about and narrated by Maryška, a free spirit, living in Czechoslovakia sometime before World War II. Maryška likes cycling around the town on her bike, her long golden hair blowing in the wind. She likes eating and when she does, she eats as though she enjoys it, not in a ladylike manner. She is married to Francin, the manager of the local brewery, who very much believes in conformity and is often shocked by his wife’s behaviour. For example, when she decides, of her own volition, to cut off her long hair, he is horrified and even spanks her for it. When a pig is slaughtered, Maryška gets involved in a fight of throwing blood at the slaughterer and others, to his horror, till other members of the brewery, including the directors, join in. But, as we see everything from her perspective, we see her joyous view of the world, a world in which we should have fun and she intends to. When, to his brother’s horror, Uncle Pepin (who is not her uncle but her brother-in-law) shows up for a few days and ends staying permanently, it is Maryška who finds enjoyment in his strange behaviour and habits and Uncle Pepin soon becomes a fixture at the brewery, entertaining the employees there with his eccentricities and his widely exaggerated stories, often involving his alleged exploits in World War I. But Francin is still concerned and buys a strange electrical device with cathode ray tubes which, among other things, is meant to calm his wife’s wild ways, though it seems to be used as a strange sexual turn-on as well. Of course, it does not work, as the hair cutting incident closes the book. But Maryška is clearly Hrabal’s way of showing how a free, unfettered Czechoslovakia could and should exist, without restraint, ignoring convention and enjoying life to the full.

Publishing history

First published by Českoslovenký spisovatel in 1976 (in samizdat 1974)
First published in English by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1990
Translated by James Naughton