“But our little son Siegfried caused us a lot of worry. Everything he picked up he threw down again, until one day, when he was crawling around the City of Amsterdam [hotel], he picked up a hammer. His old grandfather gave him a nail, just for fun, and the boy set the nail up and drove it into the floor with one blow. From then on, while other little boys were playing with rattles and teddy bears and running around, Siegfried would lie on the floor and throw a tantrum until he got his hammer and nails… He didn’t talk, he didn’t even recognize his mother or me, and as long as he was awake the City of Amsterdam would tremble with the blows from his hammer, and the floor was full of the nails he’d driven into it. I found our weekly visits unbearable, and each blow would drive me to distraction, because I could see right away that this child, this guest who was my own son, was a cretin and would always be a cretin. … But there was more to it than a little boy obsessed with pounding nails into the floor. Whenever the air-raid siren went off and everyone else rushed into the shelter, Siegfried got excited and glowed with pleasure. And while other kids were messing their pants out of fear, Siegfried would clap his little hands, laugh, and pound nail after nail into the board they’d brought into the cellar for him, and suddenly  he was beautiful, as though the convulsions he had suffered as a baby and the defect in his cerebral cortex had vanished. And I, who had served the Emperor of Ethiopia, was pleased that my son, though he was feeble-minded, could prophesy the future of all the German cities, because I knew that most of them would end up exactly like the floors of the City of Amsterdam hotel. I bought three kilos of nails, and in a single morning Siegfried drove them all into the kitchen floor. In the afternoon, as he was driving nails into the rooms upstairs, I would carefully pull the nails out of the kitchen floor, rejoicing secretly as the carpet bombing of Marshal Tedder drove bombs into the earth in exactly the same way, precisely according to plan, because my boy would drive nails in along straight lines and at right angles. Slavic blood had triumphed once again, and I was proud of the boy, because although he hadn’t spoken a word yet, he was already like Bivoj, a hammer in his strong right hand.”

p. 158-9, I Served the King of England, Bohumil Hrabal

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