Sunday, August 14, 2022

Fortnightly Book, August 14

 The next fortnightly book is The Good Soldier Švejk, by Jaroslav Hašek, a dark comedy about World War I that is perhaps the most famous Czech literary work. The full title is actually The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War. Hašek originally intended it to be six volumes; he only got through part of the fourth, thus leaving it unfinished.

Hašek participated in the war himself; he was drafted to serve in the 91st Infantry Regiment for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and spent time in a Russian POW camp; after spending some time in volunteer forces afterward, he was again drafted into the 1st Regiment. Given that he was an anarchist and an inveterate practical joker, one imagines that his service often had a somewhat sardonic edge. He became a Bolshevik and spent some time in Russia, but eventually returned; he began writing The Good Soldier Švejk in 1921 in Lipnice and died very early in 1923.

Josef Švejk finds himself stumbling through the events of the Great War, from the very beginning. He manifests an extraordinary patriotism and enthusiasm for the Austro-Hungarian cause -- so extraordinary, in fact, that people cannot decide whether he is doing so sincerely or sarcastically or because he is an idiot. And despite (or because of) his enthusiasm, he manages again and again to take the route that reduces the chances that he will actually be doing much fighting on the front....

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