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The Good Soldier Svejk
by Jaroslav Hasek

Field-Tested by Tobias Seamon

in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

I read The Good Soldier Svejk in the Czech Republic, in the southern Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov. Written, but never completed, by Jaroslav Hasek — a drunk, a roustabout, a wanderer, and at times a full and eager accomplice of Gypsy con artistries — Svejk is a comedic odyssey set in the midst of the First World War. The good soldier, Svejk, is anything but. A genial ne’er-do-well, Svejk does any and all he can to avoid actually arriving at the front: missing trains, deliberately misunderstanding orders, dodging blockhead officers, anything at all to keep himself safe and undermine as much as possible the equally blockheaded war efforts. At the time, the Czech peoples were under the rule of the Habsburg Empire, had little to no urge to fight for their gilded masters in Vienna, and “Svejkism” became a kind of term for the Czech’s passive-aggressive resistance.

I was in the middle of the book, reading and eating supper in a restaurant in Krumlov, when a German woman and man in their late-fifties sat next to me at the long table. The woman asked me what I was reading, I showed her the book, and she murmured the name “Svejk” with a small frown; understandable considering Hasek portrayed most Germans as screaming, moronic martinets.

The conversation between us at the table turned to classical music and we were off, as the woman began to buy one shot after another of some kind of greenish, Polish liquor with little weeds in the bottle. Around six or seven shots later, and seeing the rings on both of their fingers, I asked how long the couple had been married. They smiled slightly and said they were not married, not to each other, but met one weekend a year in Cesky Krumlov to be together. The gentleman told me it was one of the few places he felt good being with her, as he was a retired officer of the Stasi, the East German secret police during the Communist years, and still believed he might be watched or tattled on to his wife by his former superiors. When we finally rose from the drinking marathon, the poor old man collapsed to the floor, and though I was hardly in better shape, I was able to help him to his feet. Then the woman signed my copy of the The Good Soldier Svejk, inscribing, “I love you,” at the bottom of the front page. The former security officer and his mistress reeled into the evening, and hammered on the good graces of the German officer corps, I staggered.

Tobias Seamon is author of the novel, The Magician's Study, and Loosestrife Along the River Styx, a poetry chapbook. He recently wrote and directed the short film, Amerikan Partizan, which premiered at the 2007 Edwood Filmfest. He also is a regular contributor to The Morning News.

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