Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Red Commissar by Jaroslav Hasek

The Red Commissar by Jaroslav Hasek.
The Bad Bohemian: Life of Jaroslav Hasek by Sir Cecil Parrott.

Jaroslav Haseks The Good Soldier Svejk, is possibly one of the funniest books I have ever read.  A number of years ago I mentioned this opinionated opinion to a friend of mine who unexpectedly pulled out copies of The Red Commissar (Hasek) and The Bad Bohemian: Life of Jaroslav Hasek (Sir Cecil Parrott) both of which I hadn’t read and which he then very kindly lent me. 

These books were awesome and as a fan of Svejk it was a real joy to be able to read some more stories of these bumbling fools (Svejk and Hasek… also The Red Commissar).  Jaroslav Hasek was a very strange man, he was also a very funny man and from memory he was also a very drunk man.  Svejk on the other hand was/is an idiot.   Now this may sound a bit harsh but it is this trait that makes him so appealingly funny.  Any book that pokes fun at the Austro-Hungarian Army (or any army) and the first world war in all its glorious bureaucracy by inserting a bumbling half witted soldier into the mix, just can’t help but be funny.  This is probably best evidenced by the continued popularity of Svejk in Europe particularly in Austria, Germany and The Czech Republic (Hasek was Czech).  Here in Australia, Svejk is less well known but those that do know him, love him.

 A fridge magnet

I think I may have previously hinted that there are certain books that I look out for that are for me personally and not for sale and these 2 books are very high up on my list.  At a rough guess I’d say I have been looking for both of them for 14, maybe 15, years to no avail… until…

Last week I was working hard, looking through a shelf of general fiction, when what do I find… The Red Commissar.  Finally after all those years of searching I now have it in my hand… and it’s a hardcover… with a dust jacket.  I’m personally not that fussed about firsts, but I do like a hardcover and I like my books to be in reasonable condition… sort of like what I sell.  From memory I may have audibly and enthusiastically commented, “Oh yeah”… the joy was nearly overwhelming.  So I victoriously put the book under my arm and continued working (looking at more books).  But something was nagging at me, I hadn’t had a really good close look at the book.  I took it back out from under my arm and proceeded to open it… It was split, that is, it had cracked somewhere in the middle of the book.  I closed it and thought, it’s not the end of the world… a split is nothing… then thought maybe I should open it again and double check if it’s split elsewhere.  As I was flicking through it began to crack all over and large sections started to come loose.  The book was falling to pieces in my hand.  Even now writing about this a week later, a tear comes to my eye.  I was so close but so far.  Needless to say I didn’t buy it.  One day it will happen… I feel certain it will.

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