Author Topic: Cab Book Club 3-Serge Tribute-: "The Good Soldier Svejk" by Jaroslav Hasek  (Read 3069 times)




The Cab Book Club will read "The Good Soldier Svejk" by Jaroslav Hasek from June 1st onwards.
It was Serge's favorite book, see his post on it here:
https://www.cookdandbombd.co.uk/forums/index.php/topic,63231.msg3285021.html#msg3285021

Posters who have agreed to take part so far include:
Howj Begg
Large Noise
Poisson du Jour
and selectivememory (who's already read it).
Any more takers?


Janie Jones

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Me, please.

I will if I can get my hands on a copy - not so easy seeing as I'm in Berlin, but there are a couple of decent English bookshops here...

Howj Begg

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Yasss, cannot wait to start this.

I will if I can get my hands on a copy - not so easy seeing as I'm in Berlin, but there are a couple of decent English bookshops here...

Can supply you with an epub if you need it... both Hasek and the translator Paul Selvey are no longer breathing, so you might not feel too bad...

Can supply you with an epub if you need it... both Hasek and the translator Paul Selvey are no longer breathing, so you might not feel too bad...

OK, I'll have a look for a physical copy first and if I can't find anything, I'll take you up on your offer...

I will. Just noticed the 'Serge Was Here' under the sub forum heading!

EDIT: Hang about, 912 pages ?!

912 pages?!?!?

Probably took Serge at least two days to read!

I'll try. I have read it before but would love to again.

Had a nice chat on here with Serge about it before. Sniff.

I'll read it. Is there a reading and discussion plan? Maybe 200 pages a week for those with busier schedules?

Howj Begg

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I'm thinking this one's going to require a deadline of at least a couple of months

Ok how about this schedule?
You can make a start any time from the beginning of June, but the group will from....
Monday June 4th read Part 1 Chapters 1-9
Monday June 11th read Part 1 Chapters 10-15
Monday June 18th read Part 2 Chapters 1-2
Monday June 25th read Part 2 Chapters 3-5
Monday July 2nd read Part 3 Chapters 1-2
Monday July 9th read Part  3 Chapters 3-4
Monday July 16th read Part 4 to the end of the book.
Monday July 23rd Final thoughts

So, for example, while you can make some comments on the early chapters from the start, we'll be expecting people to be mainly talking about the first week's reading from Friday of the first week and most of the way into the second week, and talk about the second week's reading from Friday of the second week and most of the way into the third week.


912 pages?!?!?

Probably took Serge at least two days to read!

This book isn't 912 pages long. More like 700, in the Penguin version I've got.  It's never a chore, though, proper hilarious.

Put me down as tentative.

This book isn't 912 pages long. More like 700, in the Penguin version I've got.  It's never a chore, though, proper hilarious.

The edition I was looking at on Amazon was although I later realised that was the 'pocket' version. Fucker must look like a cube. I'm going to try and commit to this but have caring responsibilities at the moment so my usual reading time will be taken up by by grabbing some sleep or just busy. Do you need any knowledge of the relevant era to enjoy this?

Do you need any knowledge of the relevant era to enjoy this?

Nah, I wouldn't say you'd need much beyond basic knowledge of WW1. I didn't know a great deal about the Eastern Front or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but I got along just fine with it. Probably googled something every now and then for a bit more context.

One thing I will say about this wonderful book (although I can't commit to reading it again right now as part of the book club, sadly) is that it's very picaresque and episodic, and very well suited to short burst of reading without losing any of the impact. 

I only mention this because I'd hate to think anyone might be put off to having to follow a long, convoluted narrative - 'coz it's not.

thenoise

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Just ordered a copy, should be here by 1st June.  Never read it, or heard of it before that thread, so I'm excited to discover something new!

Ok how about this schedule?
You can make a start any time from the beginning of June, but the group will from....
Monday June 4th read Part 1 Chapters 1-9
Monday June 11th read Part 1 Chapters 10-15
Monday June 18th read Part 2 Chapters 1-2
Monday June 25th read Part 2 Chapters 3-5
Monday July 2nd read Part 3 Chapters 1-2
Monday July 9th read Part  3 Chapters 3-4
Monday July 16th read Part 4 to the end of the book.
Monday July 23rd Final thoughts

Perfectly acheivable. I hope we all stick to this.

Janie Jones

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Got my copy today. I just read a few pages, it's very readable and accessible and funny. I'm really looking forward to this. Thank you, Serge.

Shoulders?-Stomach!

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I read this during my month off in Prague. It's very, very funny. What are you doing? An audiobook?

tookish

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I'll join in, if I may.

Janie Jones

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Nah, I wouldn't say you'd need much beyond basic knowledge of WW1. I didn't know a great deal about the Eastern Front or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but I got along just fine with it. Probably googled something every now and then for a bit more context.

I'm up to chapter 9 (no spoilers in this post) as I am likely to have less time later on so I'm getting a head start. But I'm struggling with the history so I'm prepared to accept I don't have even a basic knowledge of WW1. I've had to do quite a bit of googling and it seems the origins of the war are quite unclear and mired in controversy with various historians emphasising different things. I suppose that's part of the point Hasek is making.

Really enjoying this so far, luckily my edition has minor notes that clarify any gaps in my knowledge. I appreciated the consistency in tone when Svejk is arrested in the first chapter, he seems to accept it cheerfully, very good stuff.

Shoulders?-Stomach!

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The history side of it:

Czechs were put in the odd position where as a vassal kind of state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they were expected to join the front but did so with the utmost langour and disillusionment, already unenthusiastic supporters of the Emperor (to put it mildly). Effectively cajoled into a war they didn't want fighting for a side they didn't want ruling them.

The book routinely makes gentle fun at the brutality and petty insular oppression of the Austrian regime in Prague and although Svejk is the epitome of the incompetent little man, the sense of quiet resistance is spread across a range of other characters who are all trying to forge a normal existence in a ridiculous political situation they have no power to change.

Difficult to think of a book that more elegantly juxtaposes the domestic and day to day mentality of the average person against autocratic bureaucracy and excess, in that it manages to be screamingly funny at times without ever detracting from the satirical points and consequences. The fact Svejk adores rules and slavishly defers to authority, while being entirely useless to anyone he is at the disposal of. Wonderful stuff.

Janie Jones

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According to Astronaut Omen's proposed schedule above we should all be ready to talk about the first 9 chapters now.

Serge noted in his summary of the book (linked to in the OP) that not every reader is convinced that Švejk is a shrewd operator pretending to be an idiot but I think it's pretty clear what Hašek intended. He lays on with a trowel the emphasis on how bland and cheerful Švejk is, who tells the doctors in the asylum, 'I assure you... I'm a genuine idiot,' which demonstrates that he is anything but. It's easy to see the influence on Catch 22, which Heller said would never have been written if he hadn't read The Good Soldier Švejk.

I think I'm alone in not liking the cartoons, I think they add nothing and the fact that they were added years after Hašek's death further undermines their point.

How's everyone else finding it?

I'm not, I can't find my copy. Hoping to catch up at some point.

I agree with Janie Jones, I don't really see how anyone could read the first chapters and think that Švejk is genuinely stupid, it seems obvious that he's a kind of trickster who gets what he wants by behaving in an inscrutable, contrary way. The part where he prevents the other prisoner from committing suicide by cheerily encouraging him to do so spelt that out most clearly to me:

"I'm very fond of suicides, so just carry on. Well begun is half done."
The gloomy man, in to whose hands Svejk had pushed the strap, gave it one look, threw it into the corner and burst out crying...


What is harder to figure out is Svjek's motivation for his behaviour. What I'm unclear about (but also what's making the book quite enjoyable) is whether Svejk's resistance is

1) universal anti-authoritarian little-man-against-the system-stuff
2)specifically Czech resentment of Austro-Hungarian occupation 
3)straightforward draft-dodging self-preservation
4)a sort of wilful perversity, a way of entertaining himself, a form of amusement.

With regards to 2) above, though I'm grateful for S? S!'s comments above, I am still finding it hard to figure out exactly how much resentment the typical Czech/Bohemian would have had for the Austro-Hungarian empire,  I'm guessing that the long timeframe of the occupation makes it more analogous to the Welsh being “under occupation” by the English today than it does Poland being occupied by the Nazis in WWII. When Svejk says that “we” should never have taken Bosnia-Herzegovina from Turkey, I'm pretty sure he's using “we” to include himself unironically. (Maybe Welsh nationalists also flip between seeing England as “them” and talking about “us” having a presence in Iraq, Afghanistan etc). Did anybody notice any difference in the treatment of characters with Czech names or with German names?

A few more points:
Svejk's job “selling dogs- ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged” seemed quite a close analogy to Hasek himself mixing up his fantasies and his memories and turning them into weird, violent stories. It reminded me of the many  similar dead-end-but-creative-job-as-analogy-for-hack-writing Phillip K Dick used to give his characters e.g. the tire re-treader in “Confessions of a Crap Artist”
 
This is the first time we've looked at at a book in translation in the Cab Book Club, and though most of us including me have the Cecil Parrott translation, I think at least Howj Begg, and maybe others have the Zdeněk "Zenny" Sadloň translation. I wonder how different they are? The only time I really thought that the book was suffering from poor translation was right at the beginning, where Svejk is talking about different Ferdinands he knows:
“And the other is Ferdinand Kokoska who collects dog manure”.
NOBODY SAYS “DOG MANURE”.

I agree with Janie Jones that the cartoons don't add much, but their sudden absence at the beginning of Chapter 8 in the Penguin addition was very pleasing, and seemed to indicate the book shifting in tone from comic-fable-stories to comedy-drama-novel. Given the size of the much longer later chapters, I wonder if what we've been reading so far is a kind of prototype Svejk which is more cartoony than what's going to follow.

Large Noise

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Just started it, the thing I was reading beforehand took longer to finish than I'd anticipated. Hopefully have something to say on part 1 in the next couple of days.

Shoulders?-Stomach!

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Was re-reading some last night and to be honest, the illustrations are periodically quite effective, there are some fabulous military caricatures and prim lady figures that serve as an excellent juxtaposition for the dishevelled, permanently smiling Svejk.

As for Svejk's motives - whether he is secretly in control of what he is doing, or a genuine idiot, I think it's more complex than that. Indeed, when you look at someone like Trump, you see someone who has learned behaviour based on what has been successful in business (which he is now attempting to apply in politics) and I think Svejk IS actually a simpleton but one that has learned that being a certain way has always afforded him escape from long-lasting harm and death. He is far too resilient through hard times to be a calculating intelligent being, as such people are never depicted as jovial and laissez-faire as Svejk is during moments where intelligent folk are blubbing their eyes out. He is following learned behaviour from experience and is too stupid and too familiar with censure to feel much hardship by it. That's my take.

Diving back into the book was a really warm experience, particularly the brevity between anything happening and someone or other ending up in the pub. Gradually Hasek chisels out an innocent fun-loving and benign form of humanity, flawed and sinful but gentle with it.

Really enjoying this so far, luckily my edition has minor notes that clarify any gaps in my knowledge. I appreciated the consistency in tone when Svejk is arrested in the first chapter, he seems to accept it cheerfully, very good stuff.

The paperback copy that arrived for me (exactly the same as the yellow one in the first post) had this; I read the first part on an ebook with a different translator, both were perfectly good English translations (although the ebook occasionally used slightly oldish words and no swearing) but they differ slightly so I'm re-reading that bit.