My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.
In the spirit of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude deals with a painful subject – the destruction of knowledge through the destruction of its most sacred carrier – books.
For thirty-five years Hanta has been employed as a compactor of wastepaper and books, forbidden by the Communist regime. For thirty-five years he has been working in the same cellar using the same hydraulic press to eliminate dangerous ideas. For thirty-five years his only companions have been the cellar mice and his only consolation – the occasional beers. And for thirty-five years Hanta has been accumulating knowledge by saving some of the books he was supposed to “murder”. This knowledge lays heavily on Hanta both physically and mentally. The books selfishly occupy every little part of his flat, threatening to collapse on him at every given time. The richness and infinity of the written word prevents Hanta from experiencing the real world – for it seems too shallow and placid in comparison with the world of literature.
It seems, though, that Hanta doesn’t mind. He exercises his physical power over books, but he has surrendered his mind to them. Apart from a few episodes from the past, he has no significant history and no possible future. He exists through the destruction and through the rescue of literature – both a murderer and a savior, a Devil and a God. Where others collect experiences, Hanta collects knowledge. Where the regime sees a threat, Hanta sees an opportunity.
As the world develops, though, Hanta and his hydraulic press become obsolete. The art of work is substituted by the sound of the machine. Efficiency is the new creativity. A man has been declared useless after thirty-five years of hard work. Books gave Hanta a sense of meaning and importance – without them he wonders through Prague like a ghost, who doesn’t belong anywhere. Reality is no longer an option for a man who has touched eternity.
Too Loud a Solitude is an ode to literature. The written word is indestructible – thoughts are eternal and knowledge transcends time. One may never truly destroy a book for it is forever bound to live in the minds of those who read. Too Loud a Solitude is really a complicated love story, in which inflicting pain on the one you love the most, is actually sort of saving him. However absurd this might sound, it sometimes makes perfect sense to me.