Born in Brno-Židenice, Moravia, he lived briefly in Polná, but was raised in the Nymburk brewery as the managers stepson.Hrabal received a Law degree from Pragues Charles University, and lived in the city from the late 1940s on.He worked as a manual laborer alongside Vladimír Boudník in the Kladno ironworks in the 1950s, an experience which inspired the hyper-realist texts he was writing at the time.His best known novels were Closely Watched Trains (1965) and I Served the King of England.
In 1965 he bought a cottage in Kersko, which he used to visit till the end of his life, and where he kept cats (kočenky).He was a great storyteller- his popular pub was At the Golden Tiger (U zlatého tygra) on Husova Street in Prague, where he met the Czech President Václav Havel, the American President Bill Clinton and the then-US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright on January 11th, 1994.Several of his works were not published in Czechoslovakia due to the objections of the authorities, including The Little Town Where Time Stood Still (Městečko, kde se zastavil čas) and I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále).He died when he fell from a fifth floor hospital where he was apparently trying to feed pigeons.
It was noted that Hrabal lived on the fifth floor of his apartment building and that suicides by leaping from a fifth-floor window were mentioned in several of his books.He was buried in a family grave in the cemetery in Hradištko. In the same grave his mother Maryška, step father Francin, uncle Pepin, wife Pipsi and brother Slávek were buried.He wrote with an expressive, highly visual style, often using long sentences- in fact his work Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (1964) (Taneční hodiny pro starší a pokročilé) is made up of just one sentence.
Many of Hrabals characters are portrayed as wise fools - simpletons with occasional or inadvertent profound thoughts - who are also given to coarse humour, lewdness, and a determination to survive and enjoy oneself despite harsh circumstances. Political quandaries and their concomitant moral ambiguities are also a recurrent theme.Along with Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Čapek and Milan Kundera - who were also imaginative and amusing satirists - he is considered one of the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century. His works have been translated into 27 languages.