Reading the World: The Czech Republic

I visited Prague a few years ago, and fell in love with the beauty of the Czech Republic.  There aren’t very many books published which are set in the country, and many of the English translations seem to be weirdly unavailable anywhere outside of Prague’s city limits, but I have pulled together five which I would heartily recommend.

1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera 9780571200832
‘In this novel – a story of irreconcilable loves and infidelities – Milan Kundera addresses himself to the nature of twentieth-century ‘Being’ In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and by fortuitous events, a world in which everything occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. We feel, says the novelist, ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ – not only as the consequence of our private acts but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine. Juxtaposing Prague, Geneva, Thailand and the United States, this masterly novel encompasses the extremes of comedy and tragedy, and embraces, it seems, all aspects of human existence. It offers a wide range of brilliant and amusing philosophical speculations and it descants on a variety of styles.’

2. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
‘Widely held as a work of genius, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is the novel that first brought him to the forefront of the international literary scene. Rich in stories, characters and imaginative range, it was written while Kundera was still forbidden to publish in his home country of Czechoslovakia, which was then behind the Iron Curtain. In seven wonderfully integrated parts, different aspects of modern existence — from the posthumous erasure of “enemies” of communism from the historical record, to the subtle agony of the fading memory of a lost love, to the bizarre sexlessnes of modern promiscuity — are explored with boldness, subversive humor and the magical power of fiction.’

97807553794393. Far to Go by Alison Pick
‘Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, Far to Go is a powerful and profoundly moving story about one family’s epic journey to flee the Nazi occupation of their homeland in 1939. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer are affluent, secular Jews, whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the German forces in Czechoslovakia. Desperate to avoid deportation, the Bauers flee to Prague with their six-year-old son, Pepik, and his beloved nanny, Marta. When the family try to flee without her to Paris, Marta betrays them to her Nazi boyfriend. But it is through Marta’s determination that Pepik secures a place on a Kindertransport, though he never sees his parents or Marta again. ‘

4. A Traveller’s Companion to Prague by Jan Kaplan
‘The turbulent history of The City of a Hundred Spires is revealed through eyewitness accounts from medieval to modern times. Czech-born Jan Kaplan is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and a notable Prague historian.’

5. Prague Tales by Jan Neruda 9789639116238
‘Collection of Jan Neruda’s intimate, wry, bitter-sweet stories of life among the inhabitants of Mala Strana, the Little Quarter of nineteenth century Prague. These finely tuned and varied vignettes established Neruda as the quintessential Czech nineteenth century realist, the Charles Dickens of a Prague becoming ever more aware of itself as a Czech, rather than an Austrian city.’

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

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