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Resurrecting the Living?

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Dear editor:

Someone--perhaps Zenny Sadlon and Mike Joyce--was pulling Zak Mucha's leg (July 16). Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk is about as much in need of rescuing from oblivion as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Hasek was one of only 17 writers (including Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Knut Hamsun) who were recommended in the "German, Scandinavian, Slavic" section of Good Reading: A Guide to the World's Best Books as early as 1947 (possibly even earlier). He was still listed in my most recent copy (1980).

Hasek is listed too in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia and Raphael and McLeish's A List of Books.

Martin Seymour-Smith's Guide to Modern World Literature unhesitatingly calls Svejk "a famous masterpiece."

Books in Print (1999) lists five editions (including such obscure houses as Knopf and Penguin) of Svejk available in English. The name of the translator is not always included, however.

The Boni and Liveright edition of Svejk, translated by Paul Selver (1930) and with wonderful illustrations by Josef Lada that are reminiscent of George Grosz, is not even mentioned in the article. Selver's translation, apparently bowdlerized and incomplete, still has enough of Hasek's flair to give a fair sense of his satiric genius. One example will suffice: Svejk sings the praises of lunatic asylums by saying, "The amount of freedom there is something the socialists never dreamed of."

Hasek, who apparently falsely notified authorities of his death on two occasions, would no doubt get a huge Svejkian belly laugh out of Zenny Sadlon and Mike Joyce's attempt to resurrect the living.

Barry Kritzberg

S. Blackstone

Zak Mucha replies:

Sure, Hasek is listed in all sorts of international reading lists drawn up over the last 70 years. So are a lot of writers most of us won't ever have a chance to read properly. Isn't that what those lists are for in some respect?

Sadlon and Joyce were trying to improve on Cecil Parrott's translation, the only English version in print.

Finally, comparing Svejk to Anna Karenina is jumping the fence quite a bit. Check any university English or writing program and you'll be hard-pressed to find Svejk in the syllabus. Or you can check the nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble. Compare your findings to the Tolstoy titles available, then go get yourself a decaf latte.

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