THE RED COMMISSAR by Jaroslav Hasek


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Hasek's 1923 satirical novel The Good Soldier Svejk is why we remember him; and in this collection of ancillary bits and jots there are a few preliminary sketches for the Svejk character, the dumb Czech who actually wanted to serve in the Austrian army. There are also vignettes (autobiographical) of the life of a pharmacist's assistant and that of a ""water-bailiff"" (fish-farm watchman), in addition to fun-poking sketches of the Czech church, of the meek bourgeoisie, and of the self-important legal system. The humor in all these is very gentle, positioned mostly upon one character taking another's hypocrisy literally (the Svejk-syndrome); best of all are documents from an electoral campaign Hasek actually (if satirically) mounted during the Austro-Hungarian elections of 1911, running under the banner ""The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law."" Unfortunately, however, the title stories here are emphatically un-funny: Communist Hasek's adventures (he calls himself ""Gashek"" in them) as a post-Revolution commissar in the Eastern Russian town of Bugulma. Included are: frequent run-ins with the hysterically inept regiment commander, Yerokhimov; wars of telegrams and overruled pronouncements; terrorization of the townspeople; threats of death by pistols at the head. And even translator Parrott, in his introduction, finds this material a little hard to take as comedy; he wisely cites Babel's Red Cavalry stories as a much truer reflection of the times than these bagatelles on terror. Very miscellaneous political/satirical work, then--from the mildly amusing to the morally distasteful.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Dial