8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Bitter sweet and wry in places but overly long,
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This review is from: The Good Soldier Švejk and his Fortunes in the World War (Paperback)
This reminded me very much of Don Quixote, being a book that started life as a couple of funny short stories and then grew into a 700 page monster (and would have been perhaps 1000 pages if the author hadn't died. As with Don Quixote, the characters play it straight but the hero of this volume - Svejk - is a clever man acting dumb whereas Don Quixote is a clever man with a dumb weakness. The overall theme in Svejk is the madness and chaos of war - in this case the Austro-Hungarian side of WW1 - and there is a slight plot as Svejk moves through recruitment to the ranks and starts a slow journey to the front although the book ends before he makes it. Essentially, and as with Don Quixote, this is a series of short comic episodes held very loosely together.
George Monbiot, on the back cover of my version, suggests that this is the funniest book ever written and it is funny but more in a wry smile kind of way than a belly laugh. Svejk manages to get in and out of all kinds of scrapes and in particular infuriates authority by his simpleton approach to life. He appears to be taking the mickey but they can never quite finger him for it. Svejk's character fills out as the book progresses and he becomes less of a dolt and more wily over time. No doubt, and again as with Cervantes, this occurred as the result of feedback to the author following the success of the early episodes. Quite a lot of the book is based on Hasek's personal experience and that adds to the humour/horror, and the awfulness and stupidity of war is an important part of the appeal of this book.
This work was a huge hit on publication as a part work but - as Cecil Parrott admits in the introduction - it is quite uneven and he goes as far to suggest that it is possible to detect the episodes written whilst Hasek was drunk. He also points out the great difficulty in achieving a decent English translation from colloquial Czech, although this reads well enough. This is the only unedited English version of this book and to be honest I would recommend one of the shorter editions that will give you the idea and the humour without the unnecessary length, which, since the stories tend to be variations on a few themes, I found made me increasingly impatient as I read on.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jun 2012 09:23:12 BDT
C. Southern says:
I agree with much of this commentary, but disagree entirely on the question of length. I only wish Hasek had lived to finish it! And I disagree about belly laughs - having read this translation 13 times(!) I also think it is the funniest (and most poignant) book I have ever read and still laugh out loud at some of the passages, even though I know exactly what is coming next.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jun 2012 08:13:36 BDT
13 times! That's real enthusiasm.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Aug 2013 11:48:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Aug 2013 11:48:59 BDT
I think this review is a good, considered criticism of the book, form someone who clearly enjoyed it acertain amount but was alive to its flaws. It is a shame that sometimes even the fairest and most sympathetic criticism stimulates a knee-jerk 'unhelpful' vote from enthusiasts. If you have not read the book, and are thinking of buying it, then this is a really useful review. A hundred reviews all giving 5 stars and saying "I bought this for my sister and she loved it" is presumably what these people would prefer to see???
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Aug 2013 21:45:25 BDT
Thank you so much - you've totally nailed my approach to these reviews and correctly identified the typical feedback I get. I knew there were real people out there.
Posted on 2 Mar 2014 14:06:37 GMT
Good review Brownbear 101. I am about to finish this book and feel about the same as I did at this point reading Don Quixote: kind of glad I read it, but looking forward to getting it out of the way and reading something else.
In reply to an earlier post on 3 Mar 2014 09:26:03 GMT
Many thanks for your kind comment and I hope you find a book to enjoy and love.
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