, November 06, 2006
Disgusting, vicious, heartless, insensitive, callous, disreputable, hilarious attack on 20th-century military glory. Together with Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" (1961) and Vladimir Voinovich's "The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin" (1975,) Jaroslav Hasek's "The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War" (1923) began a triptych of antiwar satire that the other two later completed. But the unremittingly gritty, dirty, animalistic view of the basic bodily functions of eating, drinking, laughing, defecating, micturating, dying and being punished en masse in the name of some daft cause or other is Svejk's particular glory. No euphemisms, no avoidance, and all the stupidity of the higher command on view at every moment. Rare is the war novel where casual civilian theft, rape and murder by the armed forces form so naturalistic a background to the story. Svejk is a legally-certified imbecile and self-evident con-man whose immunity from further military service is ignored by a manpower-starved empire on its last legs. This is black comedy at its blackest and most comedic. The Goya of "The Disasters of War" would have grinned conspiratorially.