"Osudy dobrého vojáka svejka za svetové války" (The Good Soldier Svejk) is a comic odyssey for which its
author, Jaroslav Hasek, had difficulty finding a publisher. Indeed, he financed the printing and
distribution of the first volume himself in 1921. Hasek unfortunately died - of tuberculosis contracted
during the war - before finishing the work. The story is that of Svejk, a citizen of Prague, told from the
moment he is press-ganged into service in the Austro-Hungarian army on the eve of the First World War. It
documents his ludicrously delayed arrival at the Eastern Front and eventual 'capture' by his own side. There
is a strong element of slapstick and a great deal of silliness. His main characteristics are a tendency to
misinterpret orders, or to interpret them too literally; to abase himself to a degree which infuriates even
his superior officers; to appear guileless, doing everything with a famously blank expression of equanimity;
and to recount hugely digressive anecdotes at every turn (various counts have concluded that he tells
between 180 and 200 such stories in the course of the novel). "Great times call for great men", Hasek
explains in a brief, ironic preface, but goes on to state that "the great" are the reverse of those who act
with the precise intention of having their names in the history books. He describes his hero Svejk as
"heroic and valiant". But Svejk performs no actions which those two words are typically used to describe. It
becomes clear that Hasek, by means of his enigmatic hero, is attempting to redefine certain key values.
Svejk's stubborn incompetence has the effect of destabilizing and exposing the absurdities of imperial rule.
Svejk is thus a thoroughly destructive spanner in the works. Nothing proceeds smoothly when he is present.
Even the story, of which he is the hero, cannot progress because he keeps dragging it down the cul-de-sacs
of his interminable anecdotes.
Hasek's hero speaks to us of the value and importance of being ordinary. He teaches us those who make
history are usually not aiming to make history.
=Czech literature (with some texts)