Fans of 'The Good Soldier Svejk' salute genius of author Jaroslav Hasek

The famous Czech author of 'The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War', Jaroslav Hasek, died 80 years ago at the early age of 39 - and it was to his genius that a special commemorative gathering was held last week in Lipnice nad Sazavou in south-east Bohemia, where Hasek spent the last few years of his life, and wrote much of his famous opus.

It is unlikely one could find a Czech who couldn't tell you at least a few words about The Good Soldier Svejk, one of the most recognised novels in Czech fiction, a novel that is generally taken as one of the greatest satirical novels of the 20th century. The Good Soldier, translated into 58 languages, including English, German, Chinese, and Catalan, maps the misadventures of Josef Svejk, a character who, though labelled an imbecile by army officials in the Austro-Hungarian empire, is one of the wisest fools one could hope to meet, thumbing his nose at authority and always escaping unscathed. Present at last week's commemoration in Lipnice nad Sazavou were fans of the novel, a politician or two, and even representatives of the Hussite church, who drank a toast at the newly-reconstructed pub where Hasek wrote. The writer's grandson, the organiser of the event, was all smiles with a pint of beer, and was even ready to poke fun at legends surrounding his famous predecessor:

"That's right, the place we're sitting now is exactly the table at which Hasek wrote this chapter, and over there, where you're sitting, that's where he sat deep in thought, and where that girl's sitting, that's where he wrote Chapter Two! But seriously, 80 years later you can't know. The fact is he did write in this space, creating many different works here, and not just Svejk, but also several plays as well. As Karel Capek said 'Hasek saw the world, others just wrote about it.' He saw Europe, travelled in Asia, lived through so much but died young, at just 39."

Today both Jaroslav Hasek and his good-humoured character Svejk have become synonymous with much of Czech wit, and there are even Svejk-styled pubs throughout the country named after the comic round-faced, beer-loving character. Pervasive though he may be, Svejk stands side by side but does not dominate the life of his author, who himself led a colourful if

Celebrating The Good Soldier Svejk
troubled existence, a hobo, an anarchist, an alcoholic, a prankster, a prolific short-story writer who got himself arrested on numerous occasions and at one time even ridiculed the death of a Czech saint by pretending to commit suicide off Prague's Charles Bridge. 80 years after the author's death we remember both the author and his creation: The Good Soldier Svejk - which should be read by fans of satire everywhere and anyone who truly wants to understand a bit of the Czech psyche as well as Czech humour.