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A Sailor of Austria: The Otto Prohaska Novels #1 (Biggins, John. Otto Prohaska Novels) Paperback – 1 Sep 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: McBooks Press (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159013107X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590131077
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 268,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sa Buckley on 2 Oct 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A welcome return for this darkly humourous novel of a Czech-Polish officer in the baroque and bizarrre dying days of the Hapsburg Empire, this gives a view into the world of a comic-opera country torn apart by the horrors of the First World War and the emerging nationalisms of the twentieth century that between them foreshadow the even worse nightmares of Holocaust and Total War that await. With remarkable, but never overbearing historical knowledge the author spins his tale through the first person recollections of Ottakar Prohaska, Maria Thierisen Ritter, officer and now Stateless Person in an old peoples' home in South Wales.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By SJ SMART on 29 Aug 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you like historical fiction like Bernard Cornwell novels or the Flashman books then you will like this too. Its a well written, interesting novel set in the Austo-Hungarian Royal and Imperial Navy of the First World War. If like me, you never realised that the Austrian Empire even had a Navy nevermind a submarine fleet you will find this fascinating!

I read this one first and now I am working my way through the others in the series. Its a great book, I am very impressed by the cover art work too.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Simon Welch on 21 Nov 2006
Format: Paperback
Great to see this novel back in print after too long an absence. It is an unusual mix of dark humour, adventure, historical novel and romance, shedding light on a little known aspect of World War One and the near "comic opera" Austro-Hungarian empire. This novel is a treat for anybody who enjoys historical novels in the Flashman mould. It is by far the best in the series, proving once again that sometimes an author's ideas and imagination do not develop with time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tim62 VINE VOICE on 13 Jun 2007
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Otto Prohaska, now aged over a hundred, sits in his Stateless Old Persons' home in Wales and recounts his life as an officer in the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian navy during World War 1.

John Biggins writes well with a gentle and ironic humour, that casts a light on the last years on the shakiest of the European 'Great Powers' - Austria-Hungary -an empire that was already visibly creaking under the strains of increasing nationalism as the 19th turned into the 20th century - and then fell apart as the Central Powers lost the war.

The nearest equivalent in terms of historical fiction would be the Flashman series, but whereas the Flashman books are a highly-charged romp through Britain's 19th century empire, Biggins has created a much gentler feel here.

Prohaska is not a fully developed character, the books (and there are 4 in all - and all worth reading) are more episodic. But what Biggins does deftly and well, is to show how the mid-20th century European disaster of World War 2 sprang not just from the consequences of WW1, but also from the pre-existing late 19th c national tensions in central Europe.

It is truely a joy to read, and I can't understand how such wonderful historical fiction has been so unjustly overlooked. I only wish there was more than 4 Otto Prohaska novels. Luckily they are now back in print.

If you want to know what it was really like to be a U-Boat commander in the Adriatic in World War 1 -- or didn't realise that there even WAS an Austro-Hungarian navy between 1867-1918 - then this is a very good place to start.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Iain S. Palin on 29 Feb 2008
Format: Paperback
It is good to see this book, and the other three in Biggins' all-too-short series about Otto Prohaska, back in print. This is more than just a war story, or a sea saga, though it is those things as well. It is an engrossing, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic novel about a time and situation of which the general reader knows very little. It is one of the best works of fiction of its sort that I have read.

In the early years of the Twentieth Century the Austro-Hungarian Empire covered much of central and eastern Europe. It encompassed Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Italians, Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians and many other peoples, yes even Austrians and Hungarians, under the rule of the emperor in Vienna. The various groups enjoyed reasonable liberty and prosperity for the time, and respect for their own languages and cultures, as long as they remembered where their ultimate loyalty lay. It is fashionable now to call the Austro-Hungarian Empire "ramshackle", and it was being weakened from within by nationalisms even before the First World War, but when one looks at what has succeeded it one has to ask whether it was really such a bad thing.

The hero of the book Ottokar Prohaska is a Czech, from an inland part of the Empire who decides, rather unusually for his people, to make a career in the navy. Like his fellow professionals he, in the parlance of the time, puts off his nationality when he puts on the Emperor's coat i.e. his uniform. However he has to work with people from many backgrounds and their interaction is party of the charm, of the book.

Prohaska is somewhat cynical but ultimately loyal to the Empire. He serves with distinction and during the First World War commands a submarine.
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