Jaroslav Haek (HAH-shehk) was born in 1883 in Prague, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, an alcoholic, was a schoolteacher who died when Jaroslav was thirteen. Although the family did not have much money, they lived in an affluent section of the city. Jaroslav was a clever but mischievous boy who was attracted to disruption and who held little respect for authority. After being expelled from grammar school following a rock-throwing incident, he was sent to work in a chemist’s shop but was soon fired. He had already begun writing, and on the advice of a potential employer, he returned to school, completing his education at the Czecholavonic Commercial Academy in 1902.
A walking tour he undertook in 1900 inspired him to complete a number of stories based on his experiences, and several were published in small journals. In spite of this early success and his exposure to a lively artistic community in Prague, Haek was not attracted to avant-garde ideas and did not aspire to literary success. In 1906, he joined an anarchist organization and began writing political articles and editing an anarchist journal; his activism led to a jail sentence for assaulting an officer during a demonstration. However, during this time he had fallen in love with Jarmila Mayerova, a woman whose parents did not approve of the relationship because of his political affiliations and his reputation as a drunken prankster. In order to convince Jarmila’s parents that he would make a responsible husband, he began publishing short stories.
After returning to the Catholic Church, Haek married Jarmila in 1910, but he was unable to maintain an orderly life. He was fired from editing the journal Animal World because he wrote articles about nonexistent species and advertised the sale of pedigreed werewolves. He also continued to frequent pubs. After a quarrel with Jarmila and a drinking spree, he apparently tried to jump from the Charles Bridge; although he later denied he was attempting suicide, he was confined for a brief period to a mental hospital.
Haek reconciled with his wife, but his hoaxes continued. He established the Cynological...
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Sometimes a gifted writer is remembered for only one book, regardless of the number of works published. Jaroslav Haek (HAH-shehk) wrote sixteen volumes of short stories that are mostly forgotten, but his satirical novel The Good Soldier vejk became a lasting success and was translated into many languages. From the novel, Bertolt Brecht adapted a German stage play that proved equally successful.ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}ek, Jaroslav[Hasek, Jaroslav]}
Haek, the son of a mathematics teacher, at first earned his living as a bank clerk but soon devoted his time exclusively to writing. During the years before World War I, Prague was a well-known center of talented writers—among them Franz Werfel, Rainer Maria Rilke, Max Brod, and Franz Kafka—who created a fertile haven of German culture there. Haek met many of these artists, but, known for his practical jokes, unkempt appearance, and drinking, he never became a fully accepted member of this circle.
At the beginning of World War I, despite his anarchist views, he became a soldier in the Austrian army and served until he was taken prisoner by the Russians—or, as some have charged, until he deserted. The independence movement of the Czechs had gained momentum by this time, and Haek at first sided with the nationalists. However, he soon joined the Red Army and wrote Communist propaganda while serving as a commissioner.
After the war he...
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