This was one of the books suggested within another book – the bookseller from The Sentence tried to convince her tough-to-please-book-loving customer to read this (or it was included in her list of perfect short books that they agreed on). This was a very short book – at 98 pages, this is less than an afternoon’s worth of reading. Unless you, like the protagonist, prefer to savor your books. Hanra reads his books one sentence at a time, the better to absorb him. Hanra has been a wastepaper compactor in Czechoslovakia for 35 years – and for him, the perk of the job, the reason for its existence and his own, is access to books. He sifts through the waste paper dropped down to him in his cellar, collecting the prized books that are dropped upon him. Some of the books he saves for himself or a few others who he knows might also appreciate them – his own home is full to bursting with books. He sleeps beneath giant bookshelves he has built for himself that threaten to fall on him, forcing him to sleep nose to knee lest he accidently cause an avalanche with an errant foot. Thanks to the library, we don’t have that exact problem in our house – but his deep affection for books will familiar to most of us.
Hanra is an autodidact. He hasn’t had much opportunity or desire to study books in an academic setting, but he is just as pleased with his depth of knowledge. Hanra wishes to lives thoroughly in his mind, thus he drinks copious amounts of beer and rum – keeping himself constantly lubricated against the reality of his physical circumstance. His life is mostly full of filth, so much literal shit and blood just bearing down around him – but despite the inhumanity that surrounds him (postwar Europe, the rise of industrial networks, general human idiocy, the occasional rat-war) he sees compassion and love when it looks back at him. He can find beauty among the refuse, which OUGHT to worth more and he knows it. As he says, he’s never really alone, he lives in a “heavily populated solitude”. Tender, funny, and tinged with a bit of tragedy, this book was indeed a lovely short novel. I wouldn’t call it “perfect” for me, but I would happily give this four stars.