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A novel of startling scope and ambition, Prague depicts an intentionally lost Lost Generation as it follows five American expats who come to Budapest in the early 1990s to seek their fortune. They harbor the vague suspicion that their counterparts in Prague have it better, but still they hope to find adventure, inspiration, a gold rush, or history in the making.


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A novel of startling scope and ambition, Prague depicts an intentionally lost Lost Generation as it follows five American expats who come to Budapest in the early 1990s to seek their fortune. They harbor the vague suspicion that their counterparts in Prague have it better, but still they hope to find adventure, inspiration, a gold rush, or history in the making.

30 review for Prague

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    "What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?" Budapest: City of Grit John Price left California for Budapest in search of adventure, but also to reconnect to his older brother Scott. When he was younger, Scott w "What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?" Budapest: City of Grit John Price left California for Budapest in search of adventure, but also to reconnect to his older brother Scott. When he was younger, Scott was a fat, unathletic, unhappy kid, but since leaving for Europe, he has sculpted his body and mind into someone very different from whom he used to be. By being around John again all the insecurities of his past come back to nag at the veneer of his new identity. When I graduated from high school, I moved to Phoenix to go to college. I can still remember waking up that first morning in Arizona and thinking to myself I don’t know a single soul in this city. I was elated. I could finally be me. Growing up, especially in a small farming community, everyone knows everything about you. They have these disjointed ideas of who you are that have been formed from the shedded skins of your younger self. You have no control over what they decide to remember (or exaggerate) about you, and to ever escape those older versions of yourself is impossible. I wish I’d been able to flee to a vibrant European city like Budapest but I had to settle for Phoenix. Scott does introduce John to his group of ex-pat, pseudo-intellectual friends. In the midst of them is a corn fed, patriotic to the bone woman from Nebraska named Emily. There is also Charles, an investment banker, who in the course of the novel puts together a deal to bring the historic Horvath press back to life. ”There was something incorrect about this boy. His smile and word of thanks were wrong. He was made of dirty mirrors.” There is Mark, a Canadian, in love with architecture and the past. ”Can you imagine standing right here and being in love and seeing the world how it looked before movies existed, before movies made you see everything a certain way?” As John settles into the city and starts to make a name for himself as a journalist working for BudapesToday, he begins to put together a life of his own. He finds an apartment, absurdly cheap. ”The balcony’s floor was cracked in a map of meandering rivers, demarcating flakes, and slabs of concrete loose enough to lift. It seemed evident that eventually the balcony would collapse under its own, or someone else’s weight. The building’s exterior walls bore decades-old scars and bullet holes.” The original owner leaves a picture of his wife and asked that John not take it down. This picture becomes a talisman of the apartment to the point that she almost seems like a part of John’s own past. He meets a colorful Hungarian woman named Nadja at a bar who tells him stories of her past. She has been forced to leave Budapest too many times but always comes back when sanity has returned. John takes Emily to see Nadja in the hopes of impressing her, but Emily can not believe that someone has had that many experiences. To John those stories are wonderful pieces of culture history. To Emily they are just lies. As I skimmed some other reviews of this book, it was interesting to see the reactions to these twenty something characters who are all very intelligent, who have just read enough, seen enough, to formulate what they feel are informed opinions, but of course they are just on the beginning edges of actually knowing what they are talking about. The people who gave this book one star because they loathed the characters I believe missed some of the point of the book because Arthur Phillips is very hard on these people. He exposes them. He certainly does not romanticize them. I identified with many aspects of these characters. The flaws they display are certainly ones that I could attribute to my past self as I grappled with knowledge, trying to evolve beyond just being smart into someone with actual intelligence. I must warn you about travelling to Budapest. I did have to dance for my supper. The one star reviews seemed intent on punishing a writer for creating characters they’ve met versions of in real life and didn’t like. Many of them admitted, begrudgingly, that the lyrical writing is at times awe inspiring. Phillips also displays a depth of understanding of the human condition that had me rereading and thinking about passages such as this: ”John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that the happy people in this world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two. The term unhappiness referred to the feeling of taking the wrong things seriously.” I must admit though I really didn’t like Emily. She is so square, so judgmental, and certainly someone who would give this book a one star rating. She certainly wouldn’t like the direction her character takes, a direction she would have thought was impossible. Luckily, John meets the plucky, bald headed, artist Nicky who makes him really see things, and forces him to expand his thinking about what he really wants out of life. She has her thorns certainly and is always looking to fortify the voracious hunger of the creative monster. ”John, not knowing the topic under discussion, knew she was collecting garbage to feed her ravenous, drooling Muse, and loved her for her open use of people, even himself.” Phillips also weaves in the history of the Horvath Press and the heritage of the current owner, Imre. The Press survived war, poor ownership, and anticipated the changing tastes of the Hungarian population. The books he published saved the cultural history not only of his city, but also of his country. ”This was Hungary, and Imre was its memory. For some, the book acted almost as an opiate: The pleasure of leisurely or impatiently traveling from page to page and seeing lovely Budapest unbombed, undamaged, in black and white, was almost pornographic in its unattainable, voluptuous gorgeousness. Lipotavaros, the Elizabeth Bridge, the Corso, the Castel, the Nyugati Station in the day of its inauguration--the day it was the largest, cleanest train station in the world….” Towards the end of the book the First Gulf War breaks out. Mark becomes absolutely addicted to CNN, which was the station that first gave us the twenty-four hour news cycle. I was working at Bookman’s Used Books in Tucson at the time. We brought a TV up to the front of the store so that we could get updates as the war unfolded. The war was over so quickly that it almost felt like a movie with too abrupt an ending. Like most of America, for quite a while, I continued to be addicted to news. My obsession with play-by-play news cooled a long time ago as I discovered that news is too influenced by half lies, hidden truths, and political agendas. Maybe there is some fascinating reason why Phillips decided to call this book Prague, but I actually find it annoying. Almost all the book is set in Budapest, so logically the book should bear the name of that city not the sister city on the Danube who has always been considered more elegant, more interesting. It has been a long time since I’ve been to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, but I remember mimosas for breakfast in Vienna, a wonderful vibe in Budapest, and the breathtaking beauty of Prague. Each city was easily explored on foot and provided new wonders around nearly every corner. I can’t recommend that tour enough. You may not like the characters, but I will say that no one remains twenty forever, and most pseudo intellectuals eventually discover how much more there is to know than what they can ever know. They grow up, and most become more humble. They take hard knocks just like the rest of us do and soon realize the universe doesn’t play favorites. With time, they become less self-absorbed and start to realize the benefits of using their intellect to help people instead of using it to offer a pithy evaluation of others' shortcomings. You might like these people better in their forties, but until then don’t bother to hate them. The wax of their character is still being poured into the mold. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This novel perfectly captures youth on the precipice of adulthood, full of earnest yearning, eternal questions, irony and a creeping cynicism and even dread that that moment, right then, is about as good as it gets. It's about a group of American expats hanging out in Eastern Europe, Budapest to be exact, where they all yearn for Prague, the epitome of cool, told in thick stylish ironic prose that I enjoyed, laughed at, and occasionally envied. Having been an expat myself at about the same point This novel perfectly captures youth on the precipice of adulthood, full of earnest yearning, eternal questions, irony and a creeping cynicism and even dread that that moment, right then, is about as good as it gets. It's about a group of American expats hanging out in Eastern Europe, Budapest to be exact, where they all yearn for Prague, the epitome of cool, told in thick stylish ironic prose that I enjoyed, laughed at, and occasionally envied. Having been an expat myself at about the same point in my youth, I immediately recognized these characters, and by the end, I knew them nearly as well as their real-life counterparts.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lp

    I'm with the reviewer who wants a medal for finishing this book. It was a slog, during which I kept stopping to read reviews to figure out what on earth I was missing. The promo copy compared the author to Proust and Joyce. Reviewers likened him to Kundera. To me his work resembled nothing more than pretentious freshman ramblings designed to impress writing professors. I am here to tell you, the emperor has no clothes. This is a boring book, peopled by worthless two-dimensional (and that's being I'm with the reviewer who wants a medal for finishing this book. It was a slog, during which I kept stopping to read reviews to figure out what on earth I was missing. The promo copy compared the author to Proust and Joyce. Reviewers likened him to Kundera. To me his work resembled nothing more than pretentious freshman ramblings designed to impress writing professors. I am here to tell you, the emperor has no clothes. This is a boring book, peopled by worthless two-dimensional (and that's being generous) characters, save one, who gets precious little ink. One reviewer said he could have done without section II, which introduces this one character of substance, a Hungarian printer. If it hadn't been for this section, I wouldn't have finished the book (hey maybe I could have done without section II after all!). The author's one gift comes out in his lists. At least you know there is some structure, and that it will end at some point. Unfortunately, there are only two or three lists in the book. His voice is very inconsistent. There are these extremely dry attempts at circuitous, self-consciously poetic humor (which for the most part fail) at the same time as there are these gee-whiz takes on things that I think are supposed to be suprising that most of us who hadn't fallen asleep figured out 100 pages ago. Unless this is some postmodern attempt at...postmodernism? In which case, yawn. The person who recommended this book to me, whose tastes I otherwise respect, found it very funny. I didn't get the humor at all. Some mention was made, too, of it being a "Gen-x novel." And that that was a possible reason for my not liking the book. Oh, please. I'm not so old that I can't see Gen-X from here, but if it is a book about a generation, I definitely feel for the young-uns for being so....boring! One of the characters likens the losers who are wasting their ex-pat opportunities to the "Lost Generation" of ex-pats in Paris and Berlin in the 20s and 30s. This struck me as ridiculously funny, but not in the context of the story an a misguided character, but because I think the author really meant it. Of course this could just be the author being smarter than any of us. Ha ha. Still, I doubt it. In the middle of my struggle with this book, I happened to hear the author reading some story about a guy's tryst with an Eastern European spy/prostitute on "This American Life." I didn't find his voice any more compelling when I could actually hear it. Not to mention his story-telling abilities.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    A Tale of Two Cities Despite the title, the novel “Prague” is set exclusively in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. A Confession and a Generalisation First, a confession: I am hopelessly, romantically nostalgic about Hungary, a nation I have never visited. There is a girl involved, well a woman, and the years were 1978 and 1979. But you don’t want to know about that. Besides, we would need a few glasses of Bull’s Blood to taste the flavour of those times. Second: a gross generalization: obviously influ A Tale of Two Cities Despite the title, the novel “Prague” is set exclusively in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. A Confession and a Generalisation First, a confession: I am hopelessly, romantically nostalgic about Hungary, a nation I have never visited. There is a girl involved, well a woman, and the years were 1978 and 1979. But you don’t want to know about that. Besides, we would need a few glasses of Bull’s Blood to taste the flavour of those times. Second: a gross generalization: obviously influenced by the context of my first confession, I have never met a Hungarian I didn’t like or respect. Some More Gross Generalisations Part of the appeal of the nation and the people for me derives from the fact that they were part of two major social and political groupings during the twentieth century. Pre-Second World War, they were the eastern half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From 1947 to 1989, they were part of the Eastern Bloc. Perched between Austria and Germany (on the West) , Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (to the North), and Romania and Ukraine (to the East), Hungary isn’t quite German or Prussian, and it isn’t quite Slavic. Its language derives from a distinct group called Finno-Ugric or Finno-Ugaric. The language with which it has most in common is Finnish. Despite being pivotal to two Empires, the Hungarians are a distinct cultural island in a sea of variety. Perhaps because of their differences, the history of this proud people is paradoxically marked by invasion and conquest by external forces. Yet, wherever its émigrés have ended up, many of them have become extremely sophisticated and successful business people. The Irony of Place “Prague” is set exclusively in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. This reflects an underlying irony that, at the time the novel is set, many of the characters believed they should really have been in Prague, because that is where all of the action was. Yet Arthur Phillips chooses to set his fiction in the “lesser” of the two cities. I still don’t know whether this choice of title is insightful or sophisticated or just plain immature. There are several of these authorial choices that gnaw away at your satisfaction as a reader. And all of them could have been easily remedied. Only it's too late to do anything about it now. A bad joke can follow you around for the rest of your life. So there is a sense in which the author only has himself to blame for some of the criticism he has received in other reviews. I want to be a little more generous though. The Significance of Time Arthur Phillips was born in 1969. “Prague” is set in 1990 and 1991, when he was in his early 20’s. It is the immediate aftermath of the Fall of Communism, when the country was starting to experience the shock waves and challenges and opportunities that rapprochement and integration with the West represented. An Abundance of Characters The truly Hungarian characters in the novel are in the minority. The real focus is the disparate group of North American expatriates who have been lured to Budapest by the thaw. Some seek business opportunities, some just want to be there to experience the aftermath of a cultural event as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall, some are literally in transit on their way to Prague. All of them are in their 20’s, “young, anything is possible - friends, romance, adventure”. Drumming Up Business Arthur Phillips prefaces his novel with a quote from Thomas Mann: “The age of arms and epopees is past…We are in for a practical era, you will see: money, brains, business, trade, prosperity…Perpetual peace is on the cards at last. Quite a refreshing idea – nothing whatever against it.” These words provide an important clue about the design of the novel. It is not just about a Generation X, a “Lost Generation” finding itself in Europe. It is partly about business and how it is done and who it is done between. Budapest is a new frontier town, and people, Americans, have come here to trade, to buy, to sell, to profit, only perhaps to put down roots, to build, to remain part of the future. We quickly realise that all of the main characters will one day leave Budapest, that for them it will be one long indulgence, a carefully maintained hangover, a broken heart, a battle scar, a chemistry experiment, an education, a stepping stone, a CV entry, the source of some future nostalgia. They will return to where they came from, clearly changed, possibly improved, only partly European, still essentially American. Of course, they will leave behind them the city and people of Budapest , who will still have bridges to re-build, a nation to shape, business to be done and relationships and families to form. The Expatriate Ensemble For much of the novel, the cast is an ensemble. Arthur Phillips wrote it in the third person, so initially we don’t identify with any particular character. He uses a nice plot device of a game called “Sincerity” to introduce us to: • Charles Gabor, an American of Hungarian origin, an up and coming venture capitalist here to buy State-owned businesses that are being privatised; • Mark Payton, a gay Canadian who has just finished a thesis on the history of nostalgia; • Emily Oliver, a junior Nebraskan embassy employee who describes her job as “neat”; • Scott Price, from Los Angeles, someone who will only return to college “when they institute a master’s degree in living for the moment”, but in the meantime survives on “a diet of self-help books, brief and impassioned love affairs with Eastern philosophies, and a cyclical practice of wading in and out of various regimes of psychotherapy, accredited and otherwise”. Ironically, Scott is the only one who finds true happiness in Budapest: he marries and settles down with a nice Hungarian girl. However, it is Scott’s brother, John, who ends up being the keystone of the story. He is a journalist with an English-language daily newspaper. He has an eye for detail and a sensitivity greater than the others, and we see most of the events unfold and unravel through his eyes. He allows himself to be infatuated with Emily, but to no great effect. Instead, he finds himself in some sort of jump on again, off again relationship with shaven-headed Nicky, an ambitious and hard-working photographer and artist with the newspaper, who is one of the most interesting characters in the novel. A Stylistic Diversion The above introductions take place over 125 pages. There is little action, we just get to see the ensemble in their new environment. Phillips draws his characters out patiently, and we readers have to be patient with him. His descriptions are detailed and lyrical, sometimes too lyrical. While your judgment is still suspended, some of the prose can come across as a little bit purple and in need of editing or self-censorship. It was particularly disconcerting to find this type of sentence on page 118: “The young American man with the stubbly shaved head, ill-fitting khakis, and worn blue blazer who answered the door found the alarming sight of John Price’s bright red-smeared palm held up in mute explanation of why he could not shake hands quite yet.” I even spent some time wondering how I would have edited or improved this sentence, only to conclude that only a complete excision with a blue pencil would do. Still, put on notice and alert to similar breaches, I discovered that this was the worst sentence in the book, and nothing that was yet to come offended me so greatly. Imre Horvath We meet two main Hungarians, the first of whom is Imre Horvath, an urbane sexogenarian publisher who is returning from exile in Austria to reclaim ownership of his family’s publishing house. Phillips makes a strange stylistic choice in how he introduces him. Even before Horvath has appeared in the contemporary action, Phillips uses a 62 page section of the novel to detail the history of the Horvath Kiado, the publishing house that was established in the nineteenth century and managed by the Horvath family uninterrupted until the arrival of communism. We meet Imre’s predecessors before we meet him. It is this chapter that I felt reads like a Wikipedia article. It is devoid of dramatic tension. It has no context until later, when it is finished and we move on. If you were already sceptical, this chapter would defeat you. I persisted, to my benefit. In the following chapter, we see how Charles Gabor treats Imre with little respect in their business dealings. In the earlier chapter, we learn that Imre deserves respect, if only because of the history of generosity, community-mindedness, decency and sophistication that he personifies. I read most of the dialogue between Charles and Imre, just wanting to slap Charles for his impudence and lack of respect. But this is the point of the novel: no matter what you think of Imre personally, he personifies an old Europe. Phillips’ ensemble of New World Americans are like Henry James’ characters climbing all over the face of the Old World and its cultural and business traditions. They’re like 20-something management consultants coming in with their new-fangled management theories thinking they can change everything for the better. The old and tested must be bad, the new and untested must be good or, at least, better. There is a juxtaposition going on here. However, it is so much a part of the recipe of the novel’s success that I would have preferred the content of the chapter to be revealed to us through dialogue or description interspersed within the action. As it is, there is too much of a sense that the Hungarian Goulash has been cooked unevenly, and parts of it are underdone. We are left to enjoy the idea of the meal, rather than the execution. Nadja The other Hungarian is a faded female jazz singer, possibly of a similar vintage to Imre, who sings and plays piano at the Blue Jazz club, somewhere you can drink, talk and listen to music beneath posters of Mingus, Monk and Parker, a previous generation of jazz expatriates. John is captivated by Nadja and her stories, although we are never certain whether they are totally fabricated. She recounts tales of Weimar Berlin, ironically a time before the Second World War that was equally attractive to expatriates, if a little more ominous than 90’s Budapest (although that might just mean that we couldn’t see the omens for Hungary in the 90’s). As if that experience wasn't enough, Nadja describes other adventures - being fought over by two Gestapo officers, "her escape from Budapest, her bohemian life in the United States, her affair with a world-renowned concert pianist, her outrageous dealings with lesser European royalty", her return to Budapest. Emily thinks she’s a liar, John wants to believe her, because ultimately she, like him, is a story teller, a little bit of a magician. In the same way that Imre is urbane, sophisticated, accomplished, Nadja is vital, interesting, a spicy ingredient, the paprika in the Goulash. She is a source of life and even sustenance, even if her tales might not be true. At the end, when John visits her apartment, he is shocked to see so little evidence of her past. There are no paintings on the walls, no objet d’art on exquisite cabinets, only perfume bottles in the bathroom. The minimalism of her surroundings strengthen the impression that her stories might have had no substance. However, John (and I) might just prefer to believe that she had few material possessions, because of the itinerant life she had always led. Her life was in her head, she was like a snail carrying her home on her back, she had nothing but her stories and her memories and perhaps her nostalgia for a life lived to the full. Success is Nothing Without a Succession Plan The real action, such as it is, concerns the business deal between Charles and Imre. Charles puts together a joint venture with Imre to acquire the publishing house back from the State, the beginning of the restoration of his family heritage. In the absence of any family that Imre can locate, Charles is his new family, his succession plan, his guarantee of perpetuating the role of his enterprise as the conscience and memory of Hungary. Needless to say, for Charles, this is just a commercial deal. Imre is looking for continuity, Charles is looking for an exit strategy as soon as he has signed the papers. John writes favourably about Charles in his newspaper, and Charles gets what he wants. Ironically, just as the first wave of venture capitalists is leaving, a new wave of investors arrives. Charles’ saviour is Hubert Melchior, a media entrepreneur, the owner of Multinational Median Corporation, not quite Rupert Murdoch, but a colorful, vulgar Australian nevertheless. Just as this deal appears to be coming to fruition, John decides that he has had enough of Budapest and catches a train to Prague. The middle and end of the novel are a lot more plot-driven than I have suggested. However, I am reluctant to reveal any spoilers. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi Throughout the novel, we see individuals, relationships, families, businesses and nations in transition. In an ever-changing world, they seek continuity and stability. In the Old World, tradition plays a greater role, for good and bad. It gives its population a degree of confidence, but limits its possibilities. In the New World, there appear to be no limits on the entrepreneurial personality. Everybody seems to have confidence, but it is born out of individual egotism, not collective maturity or conscience. You get the sense that Arthur Phillips genuinely knows the world he describes in the novel, as diverse as it seems. Of Experience, Wisdom and Memories Over the course of the novel, some of Phillips' characters do nasty things to each other, and he has been criticized for being too cold in his treatment of them. However, I think that his characters are genuine, three-dimensional people with good and bad qualities. The expatriates are at their most youthfully ambitious, and therefore at their most naively ruthless. They haven’t learned how to slow down and achieve their goals at a steady, methodical, more considerate pace. The Hungarians, Imre and Nadja, have a whole lifetime of experience and wisdom and memories. The expatriates, apart from their childhood, are at the beginning of their own journeys and are just starting to take their first cocky, over-confident Gen X steps. Apart from John, they reveal no respect for the wisdom and memories of the Hungarians. Even John has to take into account the judgement and scepticism of his friends. Yet, you also get the sense that this might be just one errant step in their own lives, that they will have up and down experiences of their own, even if they do not involve life-threatening moments or involuntary exile from your country, your family and your heritage. Varieties of Nostalgia You also get the impression that the expatriates will look back on their years in Budapest with a great sense of nostalgia, something similar to the nostalgia of Imre and Nadja. But you also wonder whether, in the future, they will recall Budapest with a sense of guilt and wasted opportunity. To this extent, “Prague” isn't shaped or weighed down by youthful idealism. Ultimately, it is a fair-minded analysis of worlds and generations in apparent conflict. For me, it is a wise and mature work by a precocious author. The style of "Prague" is flawed in parts, all the more so, because the flaws stand out against a background of high quality. There were several occasions when I almost put it aside, the sentence I quoted above, the Horvath Kiado chapter. Yet I’m glad that I kept going, and grateful that Phillips rewarded my persistence. I would trust him to take me on his future journeys, whether into the past or the future. Just as Arthur Phillips can create a perceptive nostalgia for the past, I suspect he can conjure a magical "nostalgia for an age yet to come".

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maciek

    Prague promises much more than it actually delivers. I was lured into reading it by the magnitude of praise - it won numerous awards and the reviews were positive, comparing the author to such writers as Kundera and Hemingway, even F. Scott Fitzgerald - unfortunately that's not the case. The novel is supposed to deal with a group of expatriates who came to Budapest to discover themselves. That's an interesting theme, but it's all what it is - one prologned theme, without suspense. It quickly beco Prague promises much more than it actually delivers. I was lured into reading it by the magnitude of praise - it won numerous awards and the reviews were positive, comparing the author to such writers as Kundera and Hemingway, even F. Scott Fitzgerald - unfortunately that's not the case. The novel is supposed to deal with a group of expatriates who came to Budapest to discover themselves. That's an interesting theme, but it's all what it is - one prologned theme, without suspense. It quickly becomes tedious and the book starts to resemble an endurance test. Will you finish it or not? The characters are largely uninteresting. Writers? Academics? Embassy workers? Where are the people who bought cheap tickets and went on to have an adventure, to discover the newly liberated frontier? They're certainly not here. Prague is populated by a bunch of posers, who all read surprisingly alike therefore burdening thereader ith heavy feeling of dealing with thinly veiled self-portraits of the author, who's a Harvard graduate and a 5 times Jeopardy! champion. While there's nothing wrong with both, I propably wouldn't want to spend much time within a group composed solely of such people. Arthur Phillip's prose doesn't help either. There are some good lines, and gripping scenes, but they all drown in his obsession with surface detail, which amounts to whole paragraphs which amount to whole pages. The oppresively omniscient narrator resembles a an aging tour guide, and endlessly describes and describes everything till the tourists he's supposed to entertain start dozing off while they are still standing. It's as exciting as reading a phone book. Prague manages to defy two most important rules of writing at the same time - show, don't tell, and if nothing happens after page 100 or 150 why should the reader go on? It seems that the author doesn't care much about the reader, as he is utterly post having anything to say. Prague offers no new valuable insights and reads more like a writing exercise than a novel; it's meandering and unfocused. It consists of snarky phrases and sentences that are all style but completely lack any substance; the few interesting moments are buried far too deep in the verbiage and are simply not allowed to shine. It could be much better as a series of short stories, loosely connected vignettes, all dealing with the same theme: the crash of hopes and the loss of delusions. But, in this form, slugging through 367 pages is simply not worth it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    No one cares about your boner, John. NO. ONE. You are boring and whiny and mistakenly think groinal longings are a substitute for deep introspection. I don't blame your brother for hating you. You seem like a paltry rewriting, an id, of the author. I can think of no other reason why Phillips would find it necessary to focus on you. In the real world, you would never get laid, but rather become an MRA, wear a fedora, and end up shooting someone because your privilege and entitlement taught you you No one cares about your boner, John. NO. ONE. You are boring and whiny and mistakenly think groinal longings are a substitute for deep introspection. I don't blame your brother for hating you. You seem like a paltry rewriting, an id, of the author. I can think of no other reason why Phillips would find it necessary to focus on you. In the real world, you would never get laid, but rather become an MRA, wear a fedora, and end up shooting someone because your privilege and entitlement taught you you were unique and worth something. You are not. Because this is fiction, you instead sleep with many women while finding them all lacking (Protip: the lack is within you). Because this is fiction, women with life experience and way more interesting tales, that somehow are neglected in this text even though they'd make a better story, find you compelling and interesting. Because this is fiction, your shitty pseudo-funny articles find a (comparatively) widespread audience. Because this is fiction, you just daydream about (spoiler) a shooting in the airport. Because this is fiction, somehow you're supposed to be the narrative thread, the 'innocent abroad', but you are truly just boring. So boring. Ye GODS, so boring. Also your not-quite-girlfriend makes terrible art that really, REALLY, does not need to be described in detail. Stick to what you know, Phillips. It ain't art. I have a feeling you'd think Damien Hirst is genius because he's 'provocative'. Prose is nice, though?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kurt

    This paragraph will help you understand whether or not you are going to like Prague. In context, it serves to introduce the five main characters as they begin a game of Sincerity (each person states three lies and one true statement, and players try to determine which is which): "Well, let's see what's what then," said the inventor and undisputed master of Sincerity. John Price watched Charles stretch his arms around the back of his chair, lace his fingers together, and lean back slightly to perm This paragraph will help you understand whether or not you are going to like Prague. In context, it serves to introduce the five main characters as they begin a game of Sincerity (each person states three lies and one true statement, and players try to determine which is which): "Well, let's see what's what then," said the inventor and undisputed master of Sincerity. John Price watched Charles stretch his arms around the back of his chair, lace his fingers together, and lean back slightly to permit the lowering sun to touch his face. A symbolic opening of the game, John noted, as if Gabor were holding himself up to the light, an illustration of candor. And yet, it was an intentionally symbolic action. Indeed, John thought that he could see that Charles liked the idea of his competitors/friends noticing the symbolism but then being smart enough to reject it as not only a mere symbol but also an inaccurate one, a silent trick, since he surely did not believe that turning his face to the sun demonstrated any actual candor. And, John thought further, perhaps this was a small compliment as well, since Charles trusted that you were clever enough not to take the gesture at face value but to know that the act of intentionally symbolically revealing himself was meant to show that he was not revealing himself. Alternately, Charles might have been stretching. (p. 10, emphasis in original) This was the paragraph that completely sold me on the novel, a novel I loved through the last page. I love the complexity - how John is clearly intelligent but possibly overthinking, how Charles is someone who is completely capable of imbuing every gesture with multiple layers of meaning, how Arthur Phillips both loves and mocks his characters, the unspoken personal insecurities that lead to reading so much into possibly innocent movements... The paragraph (and the book itself) should strike the reader as pretentious - it certainly is - but the question remains whether that is a deterrent or a delight. I love it - but I love Whit Stillman movies and I went to Harvard Law School and I spend most of my time with people who like irony in its classical sense (meaning the opposite of what is said - not so much in an Alanis "Huh, that's unexpected" sense). I like to pretend that I'm not like the characters in this book, but I suspect that I am. And this novel is Arthur Phillips saying that, hey, if I'm one of these people with such sharp disconnects between their inner and outer lives, with such a thick ironic shell protecting them from the consequences of having or expressing real feelings.. then my life will be pretty tragic, but he'll care anyway, and maybe we'll all see the humor in it. Plot-wise, this book is an audacious debut novel about five young people who have crossed the Atlantic (four from the States and one, with frequent humorously bashful reminders, from Canada) to start new lives in Budapest, where they work unfulfilling jobs and dislike each other and lounge around their favorite cafe or bar to enjoy a mutual sense of being better than everyone else - while wishing they were in Prague, where real life must be happening. This expresses a bit differently in each one, of course, from the openly cruel Scott and Charles to the melancholy scholar Mark to the possibly innocent Emily, to the reader-friendly outsider John. This new Lost Generation (and Phillips pays homage to his predecessors here with plenty of references to Hemingway and other expat writers) passes about a year together from May of 1990 to May of 1991, and each character enjoys fascinating and thorough development by Phillips. They enjoy romances of various maturity levels, and a few of them get involved with a complicated effort to restore a Hungarian printing press operation (which leads to a fascinating sidetrack in Part II, tracing the history of Hungary through one fictional family, told as part myth, part history, and - in my favorite section - part hypothetical final exam for an MBA, which is heartbreaking and hilarious over the span of about five pages). I definitely see why many people dislike this book. The characters are hard to love, and there isn't much external action, plus the constant irony wears on the spirit a bit. Still, for the right reader, this is a masterpiece, a quiet warning of the dangers of irony and nostalgia and interpersonal deception, and a celebration of humanity even at its most hidden. I am madly in love with this novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    In the early 1990's, the first flourish of "Generation X" novels started getting published. Writers like Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jay McInerney composed incredibly self-conscious, pretentious novels and imagined themselves the voice of a generation. What they were, in large part, was a squeaky reiteration of a far more compelling earlier cultural icon: upon closer examination, it became clear that, apparently, Generation X was almost entirely composed of squeaky-voiced Holden Cau In the early 1990's, the first flourish of "Generation X" novels started getting published. Writers like Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jay McInerney composed incredibly self-conscious, pretentious novels and imagined themselves the voice of a generation. What they were, in large part, was a squeaky reiteration of a far more compelling earlier cultural icon: upon closer examination, it became clear that, apparently, Generation X was almost entirely composed of squeaky-voiced Holden Caulfield clones. Flash forward almost twenty years or so and you have this mess from Arthur Phillips. Writing about the early 1990's, he seems compelled to channel the early 1990's literary voice. His writing swoops from purple patches of self-impressed drivel to painfully pretentious chunks of self-reflective irony. The novel is peopled with characters that, one imagines, are very much like Mr. Phillips: immature, slick, and so cooly ironic that even they don't know if they're full of shit or not. I desperately wanted this to be a good novel. In fact, I slogged through 350+ pages, hoping that Mr. Phillips would somehow be able to pull his head out of his ass long enough to string the few intelligent, funny, spiky bits together into a coherent narrative. My hope, however, was in vain, and now I just want a refund for the time I spent on this recycled piece of dreck.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    The blurb on the cover of my copy of this book, a quote from the NY Times, hovering impressively above the title, says, "Ingenious.. Phillips presents his characters with a wry generosity and haunting poingnancy to rival his wonderfully subversive wit." To this I say "Whatever". I was completely irritated by this book from start to finish. It was suffused by this whole eyebrows-sardonically-raised-at-everything-hipsters-too-cool-to-betray-any-enthusiasm-for-anything thing that I find insufferabl The blurb on the cover of my copy of this book, a quote from the NY Times, hovering impressively above the title, says, "Ingenious.. Phillips presents his characters with a wry generosity and haunting poingnancy to rival his wonderfully subversive wit." To this I say "Whatever". I was completely irritated by this book from start to finish. It was suffused by this whole eyebrows-sardonically-raised-at-everything-hipsters-too-cool-to-betray-any-enthusiasm-for-anything thing that I find insufferably annoying and all too prevalent in our too-cool culture. The thing is, I know that by saying this, I am inviting just the raised eyebrows that I want to smack to dismiss me as just the sort of idiotic knob who is too simplistic to see the subtle pathos that heaves beneath their iron(y) facade. I clearly don't possess a keen enough sensitivity to recognize the burning insecurity that these over-privileged sorts have beneath their sarcastic shields-- held up to protect them from the scrutiny of a harsh world eager to leap on anything genuine and crush it irreparably. To this I say "Whatever @$$h0!e". The author seems too pleased with himself, too eager to impress himself with how cleverly he can dismiss "sincerity", which he so "subtly" skewers on p. 1. I don't buy it. You can't have your cake and eat it too. The thing that is the most upsetting about this book is that sometimes the writing is so lyrically compelling, so dead-on, so beautiful, that it is painful to be yanked out of it by yet another smirking twist seemed designed to mock you for letting yourself be taken in by gorgeous writing. Man up, Arthur Phillips. Why not just write-- sincerely-- and not constantly cover your behind by hinting that maybe you don't really mean it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    If you've ever met anyone who's been to Europe, you'll understand the humor behind these delightfully loathsome characters. Not a bad book, funny at times, annoying at others. I liked it, but I have to admit that had I not been delayed in the airport in Nice, I never would have gotten as far as I did. Once I got home to the States I put it down for good. 4/5 of the way finished. Good read for a beach vacation in France. Not much of a page-turner though. Actually, fuck it. It's a damn snooze fest. If you've ever met anyone who's been to Europe, you'll understand the humor behind these delightfully loathsome characters. Not a bad book, funny at times, annoying at others. I liked it, but I have to admit that had I not been delayed in the airport in Nice, I never would have gotten as far as I did. Once I got home to the States I put it down for good. 4/5 of the way finished. Good read for a beach vacation in France. Not much of a page-turner though. Actually, fuck it. It's a damn snooze fest. Maybe I liked the IDEA of reading it more than the read itself.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is one of those books that I had to force myself to keep reading and then was glad I did. Some memorable characters and moments and some great lines. But also not much of a plot and quite a few flashy sentences where it felt like the author was just showing off and intruding on his own work in the process.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    If the Age of Irony reached its comic peak with David Eggers and Jonathan Franzen, it's grown to full maturity in the debut work of a young man named Arthur Phillips. Yes, ironically, the apotheosis of coolness is a novel about Budapest called "Prague" by a Midwesterner who lives in Paris. In a story of devastating emotional accuracy, striking intelligence, and irrepressible wit, Phillips follows five friends through Hungary in 1990. Here is a lost generation that knows it's a lost generation, a If the Age of Irony reached its comic peak with David Eggers and Jonathan Franzen, it's grown to full maturity in the debut work of a young man named Arthur Phillips. Yes, ironically, the apotheosis of coolness is a novel about Budapest called "Prague" by a Midwesterner who lives in Paris. In a story of devastating emotional accuracy, striking intelligence, and irrepressible wit, Phillips follows five friends through Hungary in 1990. Here is a lost generation that knows it's a lost generation, a group of well-educated people who can sit at a European cafe and mock their imitation of the same dissipated scene from "The Sun Also Rises." Imagine Marcel Proust writing an episode of "Friends." When the Soviet Union ended not with a bang but a whimper and the Berlin Wall collapsed, Eastern Europe seemed a golden field of opportunity and hipness � quite simply, the place to be. "Budapest," the narrator notes, "just six months earlier an unlikely tourist attraction � began squeaking with new people eager to see History in the making, or to cash in on a market in turmoil, or to draw artistic inspiration from the untapped source of a cold-war-torn city, or merely to enjoy a rare and fleeting conjunction of place and era when being American, British, Canadian could be exotic." Clearly, the advice of the moment is "Go East, young man � and woman." Phillips's novel joins a surprising number of books coming out this month that examine the expatriate experience: Ward Just's "The Weather in Berlin" takes a Hollywood film director back to his greatest success in East Germany; Gary Shteyngart's "The Russian Debutante's Handbook" follows the schemes of a young Russian trying to defraud a group of Americans in Prava; and Annie Ward's "The Making of June" plunges a naive Californian into the stark Balkans. "Prague" focuses on a sensitive, principled young American named John, who's arrived in Budapest in a hopeless attempt to bond with his older brother, Scott. The novel opens with one of its typically inventive moves: Some friends are playing an after-dinner game at the Café Gerbeaud in Budapest. Each player makes four statements, only one sincere. At the end, they earn points for correctly spotting others' candid remarks or tricking others into misidentifying their own lone truth. In its pointlessness, its potential for abuse, and its elevation of insincerity to an art form, the game is a perfect metaphor for the treacherous arena these young people inhabit. John quickly befriends every member of this North American enclave, except his older brother. He falls in love with Emily, a naive Nebraskan who works for the US ambassador and smells like corn on the cob. He hangs out with Mark, a depressed postdoc student who's doing research on the history of nostalgia. And he works as an undercover PR agent for Charles, a new investment banker who's determined to begin his career by extracting a few gems from the sludge of Hungary's economy. The story moves fluidly, sometimes even dreamily, through John's experience in a culture that's swirling with nostalgia, deception, perseverance, and promise. With no particular skills to offer, he gets a job as a newspaper columnist from an insanely erratic editor with multiple accents. His assignment is to mingle with the natives and the expats and write commentary that's "punchy, snide, modern." John is not naturally any of these things, but he can do a wicked imitation, a skill that drags him through a year of moral discovery, almost all of it negative. His dedication to chastity, romance, and loyalty can't possibly survive in this atmosphere, and the emotional flailing he endures leaves him clutching old values he can't fulfill � or relinquish. His brother returns his affection with disdain, Emily ignores his entreaties, an avant-garde artist he sleeps with exploits their intimacy for her paintings, and he finds himself serving as a reluctant liar in Charles's scheme to defraud a noble old publisher. (One of the novel's four sections jumps out of sequence to trace this publishing house through 200 years of Hungarian history. Structurally, it's an interruption that makes no sense, but like everything else in this clever novel, Phillips carries it off brilliantly.) What afflicts all these characters to a greater or lesser degree is crippling self-consciousness, a nostalgia reflex that treats every current experience as the material for some future memory. Real life, meanwhile, remains always frustratingly out of reach. These poor postmodern people are trapped in the refractions of their criticism. When John leaves a club after another unsatisfying date with Emily, for instance, he leans against the lamppost and smokes, but immediately he realizes it's "a moment sticky with clichés." Then he sees "the silliness of seeing the silliness of it, and feels the pleasantly dry, infinitely regressing amusement he can feel at his own expense." Only the ancient jazz singer John befriends possesses the kind of authenticity he craves, but his slick friends deconstruct all her romantic tales. Trapped in this prism of critical analysis, these people will never suffer an "unexamined life," but their laser irony burns every potentially fulfilling moment to ash. Phillips holds a precarious balance in "Prague," satirizing the rituals of modern culture while cradling John's desperate search for a worthy life. This is one of the most sophisticated and profound novels I've read in years, a witty, humane tale of a generation stumbling in a dim glow that could be dawn or twilight. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0620/p1...

  13. 5 out of 5

    CLM

    I really wanted to love this book since I am 1/4 Hungarian and feel vaguely cheated by my college's having not really endorsed study abroad until after I graduated. In addition, the concept was quite original and the author seemed very charming when I interacted with him once (and I'd already paid for my book so it wasn't cupboard love, at least, not entirely). However, I found the characters somewhat annoying and I didn't really care what happened to them. The best part of the book was the desc I really wanted to love this book since I am 1/4 Hungarian and feel vaguely cheated by my college's having not really endorsed study abroad until after I graduated. In addition, the concept was quite original and the author seemed very charming when I interacted with him once (and I'd already paid for my book so it wasn't cupboard love, at least, not entirely). However, I found the characters somewhat annoying and I didn't really care what happened to them. The best part of the book was the descriptions of the places they went and what they ate. Now that I think about it, I had the same reaction to the Claire Messud book last year.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul Secor

    Annoying American generation-Xers living in Budapest in the very early 1990's. The only interesting character in the book is somewhat of a cliche - an elderly female jazz pianist/singer who tells some great stories. It turns out that her stories probably are lies, but they're good stories, nonetheless. Annoying American generation-Xers living in Budapest in the very early 1990's. The only interesting character in the book is somewhat of a cliche - an elderly female jazz pianist/singer who tells some great stories. It turns out that her stories probably are lies, but they're good stories, nonetheless.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    White. Male. Privilege. If you want to read an overlong dictionary definition of white male privilege (WMP), read this book and then try not to shoot yourself in the face. Three more words: Good. Freaking. God. Reading this book was so draining, and I usually quit books I don't like, but I felt the need to see this one through because I like Budapest so much. This is the plot: Four horrible men and one unlikeable woman, Americans all, go to Budapest in 1990 to exploit the new system of Democracy White. Male. Privilege. If you want to read an overlong dictionary definition of white male privilege (WMP), read this book and then try not to shoot yourself in the face. Three more words: Good. Freaking. God. Reading this book was so draining, and I usually quit books I don't like, but I felt the need to see this one through because I like Budapest so much. This is the plot: Four horrible men and one unlikeable woman, Americans all, go to Budapest in 1990 to exploit the new system of Democracy and behave horribly, whine endlessly, roll their eyes constantly, treat the locals like crap, drink, smoke, and have sex. This reads like a so-called Gen X novel written 10 years past due and it is as horrible as anything that ilk threw up in the late 80s/early 90s (I'm a Gen-Xer but can't relate to the genre). In the too-long Prague—set entirely in Budapest; the title self-deprecatingly references the "cooler" city to the north—all the WMP elements are in place: Snide, snarky, wealthy men with zero empathy or sense of self, descend on this lovely city and sleep and steal their way through a single year. The side characters are unbearably cliche: There's a token magic black guy who schools the most-tedious main character on why things are the way they are; the plucky-and-kooky (yet wise) female artist who schools the tedious main character on why things are the way they are; the mysterious gypsy chanteuse, who—take a wild guess!—and the aging Hungarian hero who rises to the occasion and sets a noble example for the tedious main character that he—no surprise—is utterly incapable of following or understanding. Sidebar: The book contains long descriptions of "sexy" artworks created by the kooky girl and they're very pretentious, if not gag-worthy. Skip over these parts unless you are a masochist. Everything about this book is so WMP tedious, including the cool-dude author photo, his snide author bio, and the pretentious, fawning blurbs on the jacket supplied by his peers. We get it: You're a "Harvard man," obviously accepted into the right fraternity, and now your bros, babes, and wannabes bros and babes are paying it forward, calling you the next Hemingway and Fitzgerald. (Maybe they're right, because those guys were also over-privileged and occasionally wrote unreadable drivel.) Look, I know it's a thing for young people to barge into European cities and sow their oats. I myself traveled to Prague in the early 1990s to "become a writer" and the place was jumping and felt like a hedonistic wonderland. I can't claim to have been on perfect behavior during my time there, but unlike the characters in Prague, I actually enjoyed meeting as many locals as possible and seeing the sites. The boys in the book are the kind of awful, ungrateful men you really, really try and avoid if you're a woman backpacking around Europe. So, it's offensive that Prague sits at the top of so many lists of books you (meaning white men) "must read" before you go to Budapest (much like the awful Dud Avocado being a must-read before you—meaning vapid women—go to Paris). It only reinforces the ugly American frat-bro/ho stereotype. Here is a better list of books to read, depending on what vibe you're going for: The Door, The Radetzky March, The Invisible Bridge, Fateless, The Bridge at Andau. I hope more authors write more often about this lovely city so that people who want to read about Budapest—but not about womanizing bros and vapid chicks—have more to choose from than "Prague."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Sherman

    The best way to encapsulate this book is with the words of the great observer of human nature Robert Benchley in his wonderful short piece 'Christmas Afternoon', "In the first place, there was the ennui. And such ennui as it was! A heavy, overpowering ennui, such as results from a participation in eight courses of steaming, gravied food, topping off with salted nuts which the little old spinster Gummidge from Oak Hill said she never knew when to stop eating--and true enough she didn't--a draggin The best way to encapsulate this book is with the words of the great observer of human nature Robert Benchley in his wonderful short piece 'Christmas Afternoon', "In the first place, there was the ennui. And such ennui as it was! A heavy, overpowering ennui, such as results from a participation in eight courses of steaming, gravied food, topping off with salted nuts which the little old spinster Gummidge from Oak Hill said she never knew when to stop eating--and true enough she didn't--a dragging, devitalizing ennui, which left its victims strewn about the living-room in various attitudes of prostration suggestive of those of the petrified occupants in a newly unearthed Pompeiian dwelling; an ennui which carried with it a retinue of yawns, snarls and thinly veiled insults, and which ended in ruptures in the clan spirit serious enough to last throughout the glad new year." I remember when Arthur Phillips' Prague came out and all the glowing reviews, The amazing, heartfelt, intellectual praise from every reviewer, every paper, every magazine. I remember thinking to myself, "I've got to read this book!" Then slowly came some tiny voices amid the howls.... "You know, Prague is really pretty trite", "Prague is actually kind of boring", "If the book was cut in half it would still be a bit long", "What's the point?" After reading these revised opinions, mind you this book was still high up in everyone's top 10 list, I decided I have no interest in reading this. Then it appeared on my book club list of July books, of course I voted against it but I was outnumbered. I can see why the other members of my book group would want to read this, The storie is about ex-pat Americans, Canadians etc in Hungary. All of us in the book group are, or have been ex-pats, now in Japan. Still an ex-pat is an ex-pat. The book hits all the ex-pat touchstones: the exciting exoticness of your new location and the longing for your hometown and the familiar. Getting a chance to meet new and interesting people, and hopefully sleeping with them, and the tiredness of being different from them and never fitting in. The bitching and moaning and the, "why can't they do it like we do it back home" conversations that are legion for ex-pats. But truth be told… Those conversations are awfully boring and the people having them are equally boring. Honestly I've done my best to keep away from most ex-pats in the 11 years I've lived in Japan. But I bit the bullet and read this book, and for most of it I was pleasantly surprised and quite enjoyed it. But the ennui.... The ennui. I had the feeling by the end of the book that not only were the characters sick of the story and of Hungary, but that the author was also. At that point there is no amount of pithy phrases, droll observations, casual sex, Paprikash, or Unicum to soothe your soul. It's best to just close the book and go back home. Although I still want to drink some Unicum.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    On Arthur Phillips’ website, the following pivotal passage is included in the synopsis of Prague, his first novel: "What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?" These words are placed in the mouths of the novel’s pri On Arthur Phillips’ website, the following pivotal passage is included in the synopsis of Prague, his first novel: "What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?" These words are placed in the mouths of the novel’s principal characters, a group of twentysomething American expatriates who seek adventure and understanding in the newly freed Eastern bloc. And what struck me in reading the passage was that this outsized narrative covering a year’s time in 1990-91 Budapest is remarkable ten years after its publication not only for its wit, style, and poignancy, but also for its portrayal of a world in which very little has changed. Emerging from the novel, one could easily see young Americans today asking exactly the same questions and arriving at exactly the same non-answers in post-revolutionary Tunisia or Egypt. In other words, the story resonates. But that resonance comes not only from the moment in history the story captures, but also from the author’s seemingly effortless command of his art. Each sitting takes the reader on a gliding ride through imagery and emotion that is vivid, at times piercing, but always easy to digest. Even the massive interlude Phillips injects in Part Two is completely painless, and in fact invigorating. Here we are treated to hundreds of years of Hungarian history given as backstory for one of the novel’s few aged characters, a device that illuminates the character, takes us on a exhilarating flight, and lays a solid foundation for the remainder of the story. As it turns out, I have once again let a book sit on the shelf for much too long. Phillips has delivered four novels since Prague, all to great critical acclaim. But I figure arriving at the party late is much preferred to not arriving at all.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    I have very much enjoyed other books by this author ("The Egyptologist" and "The Tragedy of Arthur" in particular). Phillips is a writer who wears his smarts on his sleeve, which can induce both admiration and frustration from me depending on my mood and my concentration. I found this book to be slow going, perhaps because the narrative sometimes mirrors the aimlessness of its main characters, but there are scenes of undeniable greatness; the second section in particular, about the history of th I have very much enjoyed other books by this author ("The Egyptologist" and "The Tragedy of Arthur" in particular). Phillips is a writer who wears his smarts on his sleeve, which can induce both admiration and frustration from me depending on my mood and my concentration. I found this book to be slow going, perhaps because the narrative sometimes mirrors the aimlessness of its main characters, but there are scenes of undeniable greatness; the second section in particular, about the history of the Horvath Press, seemed like it belonged in an altogether different, more compelling book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Read this a long time ago --and loved it.... Would like to read his book "The Tragedy of Arthur" sometime, also! Read this a long time ago --and loved it.... Would like to read his book "The Tragedy of Arthur" sometime, also!

  20. 5 out of 5

    William

    Really enjoyed this. Minus one star for being heavy-handed at times.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Frankly, I am totally amazed by the number of people who absolutely hated this book. I thought it was excellent, and even though it took me about a week to read it, when I would have to put it down I couldn't wait to get back to it. Would I recommend it? Yes. It is an intense book, though, and I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone -- it would be for those who aren't in any hurry for action or expect that the author is just going to tell you up front what the book is going to be about. This is d Frankly, I am totally amazed by the number of people who absolutely hated this book. I thought it was excellent, and even though it took me about a week to read it, when I would have to put it down I couldn't wait to get back to it. Would I recommend it? Yes. It is an intense book, though, and I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone -- it would be for those who aren't in any hurry for action or expect that the author is just going to tell you up front what the book is going to be about. This is definitely one of the finest works of literature I have read in a very long time and it does demand reader interaction & patience. It's a book that you'll think about after it's all over. Let me offer you a quotation from the author, who spent time in Budapest, the setting of the novel (not Prague, which is more like a metaphor). It will pretty much sum up the feel the author is trying to create in the novel: "For some people I knew, the ear-popping pressure of so much history and self-consciousness made it hard to get up in the morning, to justify your lunch, let alone your existence. What does it mean to tell a girl you ache for her as the two of you stand in front of a building with bullet holes in it? What does it mean to fret about your fledgling and blatantly temporary career when the man next to you managed to get himself tortured by the secret police of two different regimes? How do you compare your short and uneventful life to the lives of those who actually rebelled, fought, died, sinned? Does the present owe a debt to the past? Will this place be remembered, and me with it? Maybe this would all feel more real if I were elsewhere… But who do I talk to about this, when the only language everyone seems to speak is cast-iron irony?" Prague is not just a story about expats who find their way to Budapest. It is also a story about those who have lived in Hungary under different occupations, including the Nazis & Communists, and how they've had to recreate themselves to survive, often clashing with entrenched cultural values. Set in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Wall in 1989, it begins by introducing the expat group: Mark Payton, who is writing his dissertation on Nostalgia; Charles Gabor, whose parents escaped from Hungary in 1956 and who want Charles to reclaim what is rightfully his now that the Communists are de-nationalizing former private property while he wants to make a fortune & indeed works for a firm of venture capitalists who according to him are worthless; Emily Oliver, who is in Hungary to work at the American embassy there, a job she got from her father's influence; Scott Price, who came to get away from his family whom he cannot stand, who ends up teaching English. The final member of this group is John Price, the main character, who follows his brother to Hungary and takes a job as a journalist for a periodical called BudapesToday. To be honest, I cannot do this book justice in my own words, but it is a fine piece of writing that should be read slowly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    christa

    I deserve a big, fat, chocolate-covered "I told you so." Arthur Phillips' "Prague" is, interesting-wise, the exact inverse of his most-recent novel "The Song is You," interesting-wise. Damn if I didn't fall hard in the early chapters, which find a handful of 20-something ex-pats in Budapest in 1990: John, the laid back, love-lorn accidental journalist has followed his brother Scott, a formerly obese exercise-hound who's desire to shed pounds equals his desire to shed his past, Emily, a plain-old I deserve a big, fat, chocolate-covered "I told you so." Arthur Phillips' "Prague" is, interesting-wise, the exact inverse of his most-recent novel "The Song is You," interesting-wise. Damn if I didn't fall hard in the early chapters, which find a handful of 20-something ex-pats in Budapest in 1990: John, the laid back, love-lorn accidental journalist has followed his brother Scott, a formerly obese exercise-hound who's desire to shed pounds equals his desire to shed his past, Emily, a plain-old Nebraska good girl who cannot tell a lie, and Charles, the flesh-pressing leader of the troupe and the Canadian, Mark, who is on the surface, compulsively studying nostalgia, while quietly going insane. Part I hyper-exposes them as cliches of the 20-something world travelers in a way that made me swoon and giggle and love each of them despite their know-it-all, on-top-of-the-world bravado. Part II shifts focus to the elderly Imre Horvath's past in relation to Hungary's past, and the publishing house his forefathers built. Good God. The whole thing reminded me of that awful semester in college where I ended up slogging toward a C in a history class I hated. Unfortunately, Imre Horvath's chapters are crucial to the next two sections of the book, business relationships and more history, nearly impossible to focus on, given the circumference of my permanent yawn. To be fair, there are still occasional gems in this novel, that kept me from using it to roast S'mores. Nicky, a bald bisexual artist who is both hands on and hands off with John, is a great character -- especially when she seduces the all-American snore, whom John thinks is the love of his life, Emily. And even in the bitterly blase end, there are entire paragraphs that are utterly fantastic: "He could not stomach setting off into 1991 with any of the others, not even Karen Whitley, who had lately donned a transparent attitude of jaded, sophisticated, take-it-or-leave-it disappointment, laced with a golden thread of ironic guilt-mongering, dusted all over with a heady vanilla body-spray scent of still-available." Ha! I've met her before. Plus, Phillips does some interesting things with structure. For instance, shifting perspective between two characters in alternating paragraphs; List-making, with lists so long that you forget you are reading a list. This is, very obviously, the same person who wrote "The Song is You." I'd recognize the elaborate metaphors, even if they were wearing a fedora, trench coat and awkward sunglasses. It's just that in this novel, it is exhausting; In "The Song is You," it becomes part of the charm.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Xon

    I found this book ironic and somewhat interesting mostly because of the crcumstances in which I read it. I picked this up in a book store right before I left for Europe where I struggled for a few weeks on which cities to visit. I chose Prague and ended up passing on Budapest. This entire book takes place in Budapest and is entitled Prague only to further the main theme, which centers on the emotion of life being elsewhere. It's a "grass is greener" feeling that Phillips explains as: "if only I I found this book ironic and somewhat interesting mostly because of the crcumstances in which I read it. I picked this up in a book store right before I left for Europe where I struggled for a few weeks on which cities to visit. I chose Prague and ended up passing on Budapest. This entire book takes place in Budapest and is entitled Prague only to further the main theme, which centers on the emotion of life being elsewhere. It's a "grass is greener" feeling that Phillips explains as: "if only I were over there, or with her, or doing that, or born fifty years earlier, then I would be where the action is." I know I have these types of emotions as I'm sure everyone often does wih one or many aspects of their lives. So, I end up in Prague reading "Prague" and find myself wishing I had made an effort to get down to Budapest. I was also jealous of the fresh, new adventure the characters were living right out of college in post communist Hungary. I'm not sure if I would've liked this book as much if I read it in the suburbs of California, but being the exact sucker Phillips was writing about made me enjoy it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eszter

    upper-middle-class american twentysomethings come of age obnoxiously in budapest directly after the fall of communism. as a hungarian, i am left with a slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth despite phillips' "i'm joking/i'm not joking/but really, i swear, i'm joking/okay, now start digging for my actual meaning" business up in this book and the two years he spent in budapest that clearly qualify him to talk trash/not talk trash/really, it's talking trash/but no seriously, he's making insightful upper-middle-class american twentysomethings come of age obnoxiously in budapest directly after the fall of communism. as a hungarian, i am left with a slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth despite phillips' "i'm joking/i'm not joking/but really, i swear, i'm joking/okay, now start digging for my actual meaning" business up in this book and the two years he spent in budapest that clearly qualify him to talk trash/not talk trash/really, it's talking trash/but no seriously, he's making insightful points. as a reader with a very limited tolerance of coming-of-age books, i am once more bristling. i regret not doing my homework on this book before reading it; foolishly, i thought it would be about prague. anyway, it had some nice descriptions and some nice turns of phrase and also one line (just one, though) that made me laugh out loud.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    So I got suckered in by the comparison to Kundera. Wrong! This book was a struggle to get through and maybe I should have quit was back in the beginning but I have this thing about finishing. I have to finish what I start. (Which is why I don't start unless I know I can finish.) Anyway, this book was NOT about Prague but about Budapest. So why title it Prague? I guess the author was being clever. Too clever for me because I was half way through and re-read the review to realize John Price was the So I got suckered in by the comparison to Kundera. Wrong! This book was a struggle to get through and maybe I should have quit was back in the beginning but I have this thing about finishing. I have to finish what I start. (Which is why I don't start unless I know I can finish.) Anyway, this book was NOT about Prague but about Budapest. So why title it Prague? I guess the author was being clever. Too clever for me because I was half way through and re-read the review to realize John Price was the protagonist. Really? It seems like this book was trying to be and do too many things as once. The narrative was all over the place. It was tedious and esoteric. One I am glad to be done with and will not read again.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Less than two weeks after I read this novel I was crossing the Danube with the woman I would soon marry. Happenstance, possibly, but the trepidation felt in the novel on the Chain Bridge was echoed in my own experience. There is thus an aspect of Arthur Phillips which I would love to thank for distilling such a moment, allowing it to suspend and pulse, thus securing it in my mind on that sunny Hungarian afternoon.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    overdone and overwritten.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Rodríguez

    Wow, this is true literature, an incredible work of art. The narrative is more descriptive but it is absolutely amazing. Although the title is Prague, most of the story happens in Budapest (Hungary). Budapest was becoming a very important city shortly, after the fall of the Soviet Union, this story takes place in the year 1990. There were 5 Americans ex-pats who arrived to Budapest seeking a successful career and of course their fortune. I loved the character of John, how he was discovering aspec Wow, this is true literature, an incredible work of art. The narrative is more descriptive but it is absolutely amazing. Although the title is Prague, most of the story happens in Budapest (Hungary). Budapest was becoming a very important city shortly, after the fall of the Soviet Union, this story takes place in the year 1990. There were 5 Americans ex-pats who arrived to Budapest seeking a successful career and of course their fortune. I loved the character of John, how he was discovering aspects of the city related to the situations people lived during World War II and the Russian Occupation. It is a very interesting book because describing a city from a foreigner's point of view is very valuable, they will notice aspects that normally locals won't. I've never been to Budapest but I hope I can someday.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aneece

    Really appreciated the insuperable cluelessness of the protagonist. He is surrounded by people who know what's going on and what they're doing about it, while he has no idea. Very relatable. Lot's of laugh-out-loud moments. My favorite: "Okay, so are you guys all into Rambo?" Through gulps of pilsner and melting cheese, the three marines made derisive comments, pretty cool but unrealistic... all about ego... totally stupid. Gunnery Sergeant Marcus added. "I've read some of it, but I prefer Verlai Really appreciated the insuperable cluelessness of the protagonist. He is surrounded by people who know what's going on and what they're doing about it, while he has no idea. Very relatable. Lot's of laugh-out-loud moments. My favorite: "Okay, so are you guys all into Rambo?" Through gulps of pilsner and melting cheese, the three marines made derisive comments, pretty cool but unrealistic... all about ego... totally stupid. Gunnery Sergeant Marcus added. "I've read some of it, but I prefer Verlaine," and John did not quite see what he meant.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    This is a book that I want to give 5 stars; it is full of intelligent, witty commentary and done artfully (if slightly gimmicky with the lists and the “business master’s questions”). But it was just too boring. Phillips is so damn full of himself (going so far as to title the book Prague, even though it was set in Budapest as a simultaneous comment about the inter-changeability of everything and a nod to the Utopian ideal) and verbose at times (the lists of descriptions made me want to vomit upo This is a book that I want to give 5 stars; it is full of intelligent, witty commentary and done artfully (if slightly gimmicky with the lists and the “business master’s questions”). But it was just too boring. Phillips is so damn full of himself (going so far as to title the book Prague, even though it was set in Budapest as a simultaneous comment about the inter-changeability of everything and a nod to the Utopian ideal) and verbose at times (the lists of descriptions made me want to vomit upon occasion: “Hungarian countryside, traditional dolls, china, crystal, paprika. German businessmen, their dress white socks flashing form under the cuffs of their shiny suits, entered hard currency banks and hard currency stores off-limits to the gooey-currency natives”), that I felt like I was slogging my way through it, rather than enjoying it. The tone (expat and lots of bar scenes) reminded me of Fitzgerald, but in general Phillips is more conscious of himself. I could just feel the author trying too frequently. The most obvious theme was nostalgia; not only do we have Mark and his research, but Imre and his printing business, John’s brow beating (this is the moment he’ll remember): “The most important day of your life, a wonderful moment, but to know it as it happens, you feel like God Himself is holding you up in His hand” and his obsession with Nadja and her stories. Scott is really the only character plagued by his past; Imre indulges in a bit of revisionist history by not claiming his illegitimate children. Along with nostalgia is the question of modernity. Phillips quips that “No one ever knew they were old-fashioned; everyone always thought they were up-to-the-minute: Rickety Model T cars weren’t rickety when they were invented, scratchy radio wasn’t scratchy until television, and silent movies weren’t a feeble precursor of talkies until there were talkies” and I am tempted to agree. Except the newest trend is to accept that we are ALWAYS obsolete. We upgrade phones and cars and computers and tablets on a continual basis with the understanding that whatever we buy now will be replaced within a few months (I mean really, do we need 6 versions of the iphone and 5 of the Samsung Galaxy?). Briefly, Phillips touches on another of my favorite themes: happiness. Emily and John address it the most directly (but still in an oblique fashion) with their examples of purity and debauchery. I did enjoy John’s conclusion that happiness comes from correct categorization (can we all site the serenity prayer?): “By then, John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that the happy people in the world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two. The term unhappiness referred to the feeling of taking the wrong things seriously.” I found some of the Hungarian translations hysterical and I especially loved the cultural references in language usage. My favorite was the discussion between Mark and his lover about how to ask for the time in Hungarian. Mark says what he thinks is appropriate and is told that the correct translation for what he said is essentially: “excuse me for bothering you, very high up sir, I am nothing, you are a big important person, we are from different classes, I am like an animal. I am guilty to bother you and you are ashameful to talk to me, but I am too poor to own a watch and too scared to go into a store to look at a clock, I am dirt, but can you please, please, be good and tell me what time is it and then maybe spit on me if you like, since I am only a little faggot to you?” In American slang, we can say “Hey, what’s the time?” to anyone; but in Communist-Soviet-controlled Hungary class is as (or more) important than in pre-revolution aristocratic times. This is just a little thing, but stupid editorial mistake. On page 5, it says that Mark has been in Budapest 2 months and on pg 7 it says 3 weeks. Should have been consistently one or the other on this morning of the opening game of Sincerity. Overall it was good, but I can only give it 4 stars and warn readers of the focus required to slog through.

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