A literary master’s story about the aggravations and great joys of cats, from “a most sophisticated novelist, with a gusting humor and a hushed tenderness of detail” (Julian Barnes)
In the autumn of 1965, flush with the unexpected success of his first published books, the Czech author Bohumil Hrabal bought a cottage in Kersko. From then until his death in 1997, he divided his time between Prague and his country retreat, where he wrote and tended to a community of feral cats. Over the years, his relationship to cats grew deeper and more complex, becoming a measure of the pressures, both private and public, that impinged on his life as a writer.
All My Cats, written in 1983 after a serious car accident, is a confessional memoir, the chronicle of an author who becomes overwhelmed. As he is driven to the brink of madness by the dilemmas created by his indulgent love for the animals, there are episodes of intense brutality as he controls the feline population. Yet in the end, All My Cats is a book about Hrabal’s relationship to nature, about the unlikely sources of redemption that come to him unbidden, like a gift from the cosmos—and about love.
About the Author
Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was born in Moravia. He is the author of such classics as Closely Watched Trains (made into an Academy-Award winning film by Jiri Menzel), The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, I Served the King of England, and Too Loud a Solitude. He fell to his death from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the pigeons.
Paul Wilson lives in Canada and has translated works by Vaclav Haval, Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Kilma, and Josef Skvorecky.
Though tinged with sadness, it is a sweet, and often funny story. The writing is wonderfully vivid, particularly in the descriptions of animals and nature, and the artful translation elegantly captures the lightness of Hrabal’s prose. Ultimately, this is a book about what happens when life becomes unsustainable—when pressures and frustrations build, and we cannot find happiness, despite flickering moments of content. But it is also about cats, and what it is like to love them.
There are moments of exquisite tenderness and others of deep dread, and Hrabal leaps from one to the other withm—yes—feline agility.
— Natalia Holtzman
All My Cats is a stunningly revealing, occasionally deranged exploration of self, with cat ownership the frame through which that exploration is presented, by one of postwar Europe’s greatest writers.
— Kevin O'Rourke
This slender volume from novelist Hrabal (1914–1997), originally published in 1983, is an affecting meditation on the joys and occasional griefs of sharing his life with a large group of cats. While working in Prague during the week, Hrabal constantly worries about the animals that inhabit—and which he’s allowed to completely overrun—his country cottage, and only upon returning there for the weekend can he feel relieved. Should anything happen to him or his wife, he frets, “Who would feed the cats?” So when a new litter brings the cottage’s feline population over capacity, and Hrabal rashly decides to kill several kittens, readers will be shocked. That he can keep them on his side afterward—by persuasively showing himself as appalled at what he’s done—is a testament to his storytelling skills.
In the end, Hrabal's cats keep him alive...and Hrabal knows better than anyone that our animality is what makes us human.
— Becca Rothfeld
Czechoslovakia's greatest writer.
— Milan Kundera
Hrabal is a spider of a writer: subtle and sly, patient, with invisible designs. He never proclaims —he never needs to. He envelops.
— Parul Sehgal
Everything changes the moment one takes pity on a human being or a mouse cowering in a corner. All of a sudden, a different world appears before our eyes, both more terrifying and more beautiful. That’s what makes Hrabal’s stories and novels genuinely moving. And so was his end. He died in 1997 at the age of eighty-two, falling out of a hospital window in Prague while apparently reaching to feed some pigeons.
— Charles Simic
This alternately sweet and gruesome memoir challenges readers to think about their own actions and their own vulnerability. Cats serve as a metaphor for the many forms of guilt each person carries and the challenges of rationalizing problematic behavior. Indeed, what is one to do with all those cats?
Hrabal, to my mind, is one of the greatest European prose writers.
— Philip Roth
The essence of Hrabal’s fiction is to draw
beauty from what isn’t, to find hope where we’re not likely to look—to
show that we are all of us ‘magnificent.’
— Meghan Forbes