A few novels in and I’ve finally found one I can rip apart. This is not to say that The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek was bad or undeserving of its position on this list. On the contrary really. Hasek’s lone novel masterfully lampoons warfare. In fact, Hasek’s disdainful view on almost everything -- military related or otherwise -- is a blueprint for satire. Priests, government officials, teachers, doctors, Germans, Czechs, Catholics, Jews, whatever, Hasek went to town and made the world look ridiculous.
Additionally, the novel is illustrated with ridiculous caricatures. It was a great way to break up text and conveyed points more effectively. Hasek’s humor -- however dark and crass it was -- benefited from the more than one hundred doodles.
Usually epilogues are unnecessary or corny. Writers try to tie up all loose ends that normally would be relegating to the resolution in a few short pages. Maybe Hasek’s works because it has nothing to do with the story and appears following the novel’s first part (not at the book’s end). All that he accomplishes with this post script (essentially that’s what it is) is to bitch about censorship and lame people. Hasek complains that readers are often too sensitive and how this sensitivity harms literature. As I will elaborate later, it’s a crude book. Hasek argues, well here, that if this is how people really talked, why would he refrain from including it? Honesty and accuracy is most important in comedy. Anyone can make a joke and say that President Bush is a Nazi. But a better joke would include a solid foundation in fact. Hasek’s satire utilizes facts very affectively, so bollix to all those lame-os that can handle the pressure. (Granted what people were offended about in 1920 is tame by today standards, but the point is valid.)
There are a few things I wish I had known before reading Hasek’s masterpiece, though, and they are the basis of the aforementioned “ripping.” It’ll benefit you if a desire ever struck to read this laborious, yet enjoyable novel.
1. Nothing the titled-character ever says is worth reading -- Svejk is a certifiable, self-admitted imbecile. His bumblings are humorous and heart-warming. However, nothing he ever says should be read. Hasek wasn’t including his countless, page-long rambling stories to be critically interpreted. They were intended to illustrate that diarrhea of the mouth is a mortal sin.
A typical dialogue with Svejk went like this:
“Svejk, you idiot, why did you put on that Russian prisoners uniform?” asked Lieutenant Lukas. Svejk smiled an idiotic grinned and innocently replied. “Well sir, you told us that we should know our enemy, and the best way to know your enemy is by trying on their clothes. At least that’s what this gentleman at the bar The Chalice told me. He said everyday he’d break into another person’s home -- male or female -- and try on their wardrobe for the day. This way, he was able to view life through the eyes of a monk, a butcher, a bullfighter, a whore. He said because of his lifestyle choice everyday he got to be a new person. So when I saw the Russian soldier had run off and left his clothes, what other choice did I have? An order is an order, sir, and the way I see it, I would be committing high treason if I didn’t put them on.” Lieutenant Lukas starred blankly at Svejk before giving him three across the jaw.
If I had known that Svejk’s words were this insignificant before hand, I could have read the novel in afternoon. Hasek must be quite the bull-shitter to keep Svejk full of dialogue.
2. Soldiers in the First World War (at least those fighting for the Central Powers) drank, told crude jokes and engaged in a fare share of lewd acts -- I know that this novel is satire and not too be taken literally, but throughout the entirety of the book, everyone was drunk all the time. From officers to infantrymen to cooks to chaplains, everyone is rightly tossed. Hasek’s point -- I believe -- is that in war, morality is abandoned and vices pile up. Each soldier drinks heavily, constantly is on the prey for females, and smokes anything they can get their hands on. That’s nothing to say for the mindless killing that occurs.
3. There’s a reason the punctuation is all weird -- Quotations are done like this:
Svejk said to Lieutenant Dub in the latrines, ‘I’m shit out of luck. Or, like my mother said, “Take that Franz Joseph.” '
Normal quotation marks only occurred within quotations. I thought maybe this was some Czech style lost in translation. At the end of the novel, though, I find out the reason: it is a dictation. Hasek read the prose and someone wrote it down. So the primary quotation was the entire book. This leads me to my final point…
4. The novel has no ending -- Seven hundred and fifty-two pages in, and I am greeted by this message:
“This was the point reached by Jaroslav Hasek in dictating The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War. He was already ill and death silenced him forever on 3 January 1923. It prevented him from completing one of the most famous and widely-read novels published after the First World War.”
The novel wasn’t finish! There’s no ending! Svejk never even gets to the war itself! It was very disconcerting to have no conclusion, resolution, what have you. I’m not talking about tying up loose ends, just “Svejk got shot and died” would have been better.
I suppose it is fair to say that The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War ended like The Sopranos. Fortunately, I was sparred from Journey.
Up next, a novel Pat Rush just finished and I’ve read twice, (#95) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.