Jaroslav Hasek's world-famous satirical farce The Good Soldier Svejk has been translated into over 60 languages, and is one of the best-known Czech works ever published.
A soldier in the First World War who never actually sees any combat, Josef Å vejk is the awkward protagonist - and none of the other characters can quite decide whether his bumbling efforts to get to the front are genuine or not. Often portrayed as one of the first anti-war novels, Hasek's classic satire is a tour-de-force of modernist writing, influencing later writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner and Joseph Heller.
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This is a social commentary and uses humour and satire to make political points. It is well narrated and the story is entertaining. Not my favourite book but interesting.
Svejk is the embodiment of Czech passive resistance to foreign domination, in this case Austro-Hungarian, and later, Russian Bolsheviks. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether he's really a "patent idiot" as he proudly proclaims, or a conniving saboteur who can wreck the simplest orders with creative application of cheerful obedience coupled with elastic morality.
But Svejk the idiot seems positively sensible when confronted with the Imperial war machine, which even without Svejk's help manages to sabotage its own greatness through equally imbecilic acts of obedience.
If you're feeling a bit oppressed by some misbegotten authority or asinine bureacracy, this book is for you. The Czechs have mastered the art of patient suffering, so the book is surprisingly lighthearted given the weight of its content. You'll feel a lot better afterwards.
Svejk helpfully offers to haul a load of books from brigade office and deliver them to the staff. When the train is called to leave midway through the task, Svejk commits a blunder so serious that even he is not authorized to know what he has done.
Svejk of course is the centerpiece of the novel. Second after that is probably poor Lieutenant Lukaš, a career officer and lothario who fails on numerous occasions to rid himself of Svejk.
The audiobook is "abridged" from the original without serious loss. There is a certain amount of ribald activity and some really eloquent cursing (how many ways are there to call a soldier a "bastard"?), delivered in a British comedic style that would be at home in a Monty Python.
"A great listen"
Do take time to listen to even this abridged version of one of the 20th century's most humerous and iconoclastic novels detailing the adventures of a hapless, bumbling characters ( or is he? judge for yourself ! ) in the First World War. I can't remember a more scathing satire of the lunacy of war,especially combined with the incompetent buffoonery of those supposed to be in charge ! David Horovitch does a superb job with a great variety of accents depicting the book's characters.
So why only 4 stars then? Come on Audible, let's have the whole book !
"A really enjoyable listen."
I have been travelling to Prague regularly for the last couple of years and I have realized how much the Czechs have in common with the British in so many ways - particularly our sense of humour. However, even in English I don't know of another book as subtly critical of the stupidity of war and yet so amusing at the same time. I came to look for this book because my favourite restaurant in Prague is called U Brázdů and is part of the small chain of Švejk Restaurants, where authentic local dishes can be savoured. This book is an insight into the Czech folklore that is well worth listening to.
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