A Sailor of Austria: A Novel Hardcover – 1 May 1994
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"Stark realism and finely crafted humor... use of narration, his thorough knowledge, and good technical details make this novel compelling reading." --Library Journal
"Biggins writes with a fine sense of the sea and a truly marvelous wit." --Booklist
About the Author
John Biggins came across photos of the Austro-Hungarian submarine service in 1987. He subsequently wrote the four-book Otto Prohaska series, a cult classic with literary flair and an ironic twist. A native of England, Biggins currently lives in the Netherlands.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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. His experiences bring out the tensions, the excitement, the tragedy, and the occasional comedy, of wartime. The end of the book comes at the end of the War as the Empire is finally falling apart. The scene as the imperial flag is pulled down for the last time and the once-united crew start to go their own ways to their own new nations arising out of the ruins is deeply moving.
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