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A Sailor of Austria: In Which, Without Really Intending to, Otto Prohaska Becomes Official War Hero No. 27 of the Habsburg Empire (The Otto Prohaska Novels) Paperback – September 1, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews

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  • The Two-Headed Eagle: In Which Otto Prohaska Takes a Break as the Habsburg Empire's Leading U-boat Ace and Does Something Even More Thanklessly Dangerous (The Otto Prohaska Novels)
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  • The Emperor's Coloured Coat: In Which Otto Prohaska, Hero of the Habsburg Empire, Has an Interesting Time While Not Quite Managing to Avert the First World War (The Otto Prohaska Novels)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Austro-Hungarian submarine service during WW I is the unusual setting for first-time author Biggins's exciting debut, a retro techno-adventure story that falls somewhere between Tom Clancy and Patrick O'Brian. In an extended flashback, centenarian Ottokar Prohaska, ending his life in a Welsh nursing home, recalls his participation in the earliest days of undersea war, commanding U-boats so primitive that every dive was an adventure. Biggins brilliantly reconstructs the turn-of-the-century Hapsburg Empire, where situations might be hopeless but never serious. Prohaska is a well-rounded, sympathetic character whose point of view perfectly reflects the navy's officer corps. He and his crew sink ships, kill men and endure depth charging. They carry a pretender to the Albanian throne and transport a camel from North Africa to Crete. Underlying the picaresque adventures of these pioneering submariners is the ever-present prospect of dying in a steel coffin, whether from enemy action, asphyxiation, engine failure or mud. Prohaska's war has no glory--only the satisfaction of duty in a cause they believed in. This is top-notch military fiction with a literary flair, must reading for fans of the genre.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Looking back on his career as a naval officer in the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy during World War I, 101-year-old Ottokar Eugen Prohaska narrates his experiences as a submarine officer in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas from 1915 to 1918. Stark realism and finely crafted humor characterize this well-balanced account of the Austrian submarine service during the conflict. Humorous episodes such as flushing a toilet while submerged, known as "U-boat baptism," and transporting a camel by submarine from North Africa to Albania are interwoven with moments of terror such as depth charge attacks and gun actions with ships. Biggins's use of narration, his thorough knowledge of the Adriatic, and good technical detail make this first novel of a little-known area of conflict compelling reading for those interested in the sea fiction of the period. Recommended for libraries with sea fiction collections.
Harold N. Boyer, Camden Cty. Coll., Blackwood, N.J.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Otto Prohaska Novels (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: McBooks Press (September 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159013107X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590131077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #383,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In 'Sailor of Austria', John Biggins introduced Otto Prohaska, captain of an Austro-Hungarian submarine during the Great War. The tale is told from Prohaska's perspective as a 100-year old resident of a nursing home in rural Wales. Surprised by the interest of a young worker at the home, Prohaska sets about recording his story. This 'looking back' perspective allows a modern sardonic narrative voice somewhat in the manner of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man.

The manner of telling is reminiscent of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman: A Novel (Flashman), as others have remarked, but darker. At times the book is laugh-out-loud funny - particularly early in the book when the dire consequences of a submarine crew fed on rotten cabbage stew leads to a serendipitous result. Biggins gives the reader a convincing sense of life and death aboard the absurdly primitive WW I submarines.

As the book moves into the later stages of the war, humor takes a backseat and tragedy takes center stage. Biggins' remarkable description of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire puts the reader amidst the shock and utter chaos of a crumbling world. And then the Spanish Flu makes its entrance.

It's exciting to see the renewed interest in John Biggins works, which were hardly big sellers when first published in 1991 but are now being brought back by McBooks Press. I was only recently put on to Biggins over on LibraryThing and the discovery's been one of those great unexpected experiences that come along only rare even to devoted readers.

Help rescue John Biggins from undeserved obscurity. The writing is really first-rate and so is the story. Highest recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
Wonderful debut historical novel set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire circa WWI. The book is presented as the memoirs of a Polish Czech who served in the royal navy as a submarine commander. The bulk of the book focuses on his exploits in the fledgling submarine corps patrolling the Adriatic. Biggins is masterful at depicting the cramped life and sketchy technology of the earliest submarines. The detailed descriptions of combat are as gripping and engaging as anything in "The Hunt for Red October", with the added bonus that Biggins can actually write. It is a very strong historical novel which manages to depict a confusing time and place with total believability. Highly recommended for those interested in Central Europe circa WWI and those interested in military history. Followed by The Emperor's Coloured Coat and The Two-Headed Eagle.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ignore the Kirkus Review and see what readers have to say. This is an extraordinary book. I read it perhaps two years ago, but it is unforgettable. One of the most enjoyable reads I've ever had. And a most unusual story. The life of a submariner in the Austro-Hungarian navy in the first world war? I think I learned a lot (the author is a scholar specializing in the history of that region) and it was a terribly amusing but realistic tale. I loaned it to a colleague with a love for sea stories, and he read it immediately and voraciously and was upset to find it was out-of-print as he wanted to send copies to friends. I rarely read books twice, but this is one I'd like to return to again and again.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most naval fiction is Napoleonic. Most of what's left is of the US and can range from the American Revolution to modern times. That takes care of about 95% of all that is out there. Most of the rest falls into a few types as well but this book is completely different. Little is ever written of the First World War and even less is ever written of Austria. When you have a story that involves Austrian U boats in the First World War, you know you have found something very different from average. This is such a book. Even better, it is interesting and well written.

The books is a reminiscence of Otto Prohaska, an officer of the Habsburg monarchy. U Boats are still fairly new and are considered experimental. Otto does a good job of proving the technology and has a series of adventures in doing so. One of these involves trying to transport a live camel on a U Boat. The book has a sense of humor. It brings out some little known information about a neglected part of a seldom written of war. It is outstanding all around.
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Format: Hardcover
One of my favourite novels of the past decade. I think I've read it more than a dozen times and the appeal never fades. Not a conventional war story by any means, the book it most closely reminds me of, strangely, is Joseph Heller's classic "Catch 22". Although the books are poles apart, they are both concerned with the absurdity of war, but whereas "Catch 22" is black and manic, "A Sailor of Austria" is gently sardonic. Biggins accurately conveys the crumbling pretensions of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the utter meaninglessness of its military efforts in this tepid backwater of the War to end all Wars. Part of the allure of the story for me was the very obscurity of the campaign Biggins is describing. Prior to reading this I had no idea that Austro-Hungary even had a navy, let alone a submarine fleet. The depth of Biggin's research is obvious and extremely impressive. His hero and narrator, Otto Prohaska, is a likeable sea-dog, with a healthy cynicism regarding the doddering Empire he serves, but whose loyalty to that same crumbling edifice remains steadfast until it literally falls to pieces around him. The final scenes aboard his submarine as the Austro-Hungarian flag is taken down for the last time and his crew prepares to break up are among the the most moving in the book. The book has plenty more to recommend it - humour, romance, intrigue, in short a must-read for anyone interested in war and the sea.
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