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Hello Classic Literature forumers,
I normally post over on the science fiction forum, but I see there's already been some discussion here, so I thought to share my thoughts on this book. My copy was the 1973 translation by Cecil Parrott, which includes illustratrations by Josef Lada. I recommend the wikipedia overview at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Soldier_Svejk, to understand its inspirational role in the history of anti-war literature.
For my part, it took a long time to read this, partially because there was a lot going on in my life last month, but also because this is an incredibly slow book. Written after WW1 and the subsequent break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it sarcastically tells the story of one Josef Svejk. Svejk continuously fails to join his unit and keep up with them as he proceeds to the Russian front in Galicia. At first, he is apparently an imbecile, misunderstanding everything, while zealously over-pledging his allegiance. Eventually, it becomes clear the he is really playing all the bureaucracy and hypocrisy to his advantage, by acting like an imbecile. Unfortunately, one of Svejk's tactics is to tirelessly relate random anecdotes that have the effect of boring both the authority he is speaking to, and the reader. The book is fascinating for its insights into Czech, Austrian, Hungarian culture of the time, but as a story it really really drags.
Finally, in the last hundred pages or so, some intriguing suspense develops. Svejk stupidly puts on the uniform of a deserter Russian soldier who is taking a bath in a river, and is then captured by his own side. Unfortuanately Svejk speaks Czech, and to the Hungarian soldiers who capture him, this sounds exactly like Russian. I think there is some inkling of what was wrong with the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a whole given here, and to avoid spoilers, I'm not going to say what happens to him. But in the end, we find the author actually died before finishing the saga.
Last Edited on: 7/16/10 1:55 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
As Tom says, it is anti-war. It takes a very different tack from All Quiet On The Western Front. Is Schweik going to be drafted, or is he not? Is he a malinger or is he not? His misadventures with the wartime bureaucracy are hilarious (at least to me) in the face of what he describes. New recruits/draftees who are willing to literally chop off a whole leg to avoid being sent to the Eastern Front (Russia). Few who went to battle there came back. And the absurdity of it all.
I regard it as a great book. Enjoyed it? wrong word. But that's all rigtht, Tome. It don't mean nothing. Drive on !