All My Cats
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.
Praise For All My Cats…
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 - Los Angeles Review of Books
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 - Michigan Quarterly Review
All My Cats is both a simple tale about a man and his many pets, and a powerful metaphor. It’s a book that forces us to reckon with the idea that to be human and to be alive is also to be guilty and to suffer for it. This is a book about what one does when existence becomes untenable, and how guilt—as it gnaws relentlessly through us—must be carried for a lifetime.
— Lucy Scholes - Paris Review
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.
— Publishers Weekly
Searingly frank and strangely moving, “All My Cats” is a welcome addition to a singular body of work.
— Malcolm Forbes - Star Tribune
"Hrabal’s memoir succeeds—with frightening lucidity—in its capacity to narrow the gap that separates his experiences from our own."
— Zach Davidson - The Brooklyn Rail
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 - The New Yorker
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 - The New York Times Book Review
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 - The New York Review of Books
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 - Los Angeles Review of Books
New Directions, 9780811228954, 128pp.
Publication Date: November 26, 2019
About the Author
Paul Wilson lives in Canada and has translated works by Vaclav Haval, Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Kilma, and Josef Skvorecky.