This book has an interesting history, a history perhaps more interesting than the book itself. When Communist journalist and Czech resistance member Julius Fučík was arrested by the Gestapo, a friendly jailer (who had in fact joined up for the purpose of subverting the organization from the inside, iirc) gave him some paper and smuggled out his writings. They were later published in a cut form, censored by the postwar Communist government to excise one of the most interesting parts of the story– that Fučík was pretending to cooperate and feeding false information to the Nazis. This is revealed in the final pages of the uncut edition of the book. The author did not survive the war; he was executed by the Nazis.
The book is somewhat episodic, as can be imagined from the circumstances under which it was written. It tells the story of his arrest and torture (not too graphically), and contains little character sketches of his cell-mates and guards, a will, and an “intermezzo” or two–one describing May Day in prison.
I noticed that in addition to censoring out the big twist, the postwar authorities, who heavily promoted the book, censored out passages that expressed sympathy for the Sudeten Germans or for Germans generally, showing that Fučík was able to distinguish between the Nazis and the German people generally and even thought the German minority in Czechoslovakia had some valid grievances even though many of them turned to Nazism.
It’s a very moralistic book (he’s explicit about wanting to hold up the heroes of the resistance as an example), and also very propagandistic for the author’s political viewpoint. Although thinking back on it, since it is set in a section of the prison that specifically held Communists, it’s not surprising that almost all the good guys are Communists, and antifascists of other viewpoints are not even mentioned for the most part. However, the political stuff gets old quickly.
Fučík is very clear that he considers giving way under torture to be a choice and a moral flaw–this seems harsh, but considering he had gone through the same experience himself, it was probably a necessary viewpoint to hold in order to not give in.
This quote was very powerful:
“One of these days the present will be the past, and people will speak of “the great epoch” and of the nameless heroes who shaped history. I should like it to be known that there were no nameless heroes, that these were men, men who had names, faces, desires, and hopes…”