Prague: A Novel

 
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Product Description

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.

In Prague, Arthur Phillips's sparkling, Kundera-flavored debut, five young Americans converge in Budapest in the early 1990s. Most are there by chance, like businessman Charles Gabor, whose parents were Hungarian. But one of them, John Price, has the more novelistic motivation of lost love. He is following his older brother, Scott, intent on achieving an intimacy that Scott, a language teacher and health enthusiast, is just as intently trying to escape. The romantic hero of this unsentimental novel, John Price lives like an expatriate of the 1920s. He longs for experience (and more or less stumbles into a writing job for an English language paper), but even more so for the great, obliterating love that takes the form of the perky assistant Emily Oliver. Mark Payton, a scholar of nostalgia whose insights are touched with mysticism, seems often to speak for the author, even in his barely repressed desire for John Price. For who would not love the good and unaffected, in the confusion, opportunism, and irony that characterize fin-de-si¨¨cle Europe? Phillips's five seekers are like mirrors that reflect Budapest at different angles, and that imperfectly--but wonderfully--point toward the unattainable city: the glittering, distant Prague. --Regina Marler

Customer Reviews:

  • Brilliant failure
    This novel was enjoyable and if looked at by individual pages, or even chapters, it was brilliant. As a whole, though, it lacks quality: great writer - weak book. As I worked through it I thought, "I can't wait for his next book - it should be better." (It is out now, I see, but I will wait for the paperback version.) One more thing - the characters were interesting and well drawn - but none of them were likeable....more info
  • Could have been better
    There is a point in Prague where one of the characters, a newspaper columnist, begins to write something with a good premise. But no sooner does he reach his peak than he is hit with writer's block. He hopes to regain his writing ability, to no avail. And that is essentially what happens to this novel. The Prague's premise was captivating. The story of five North American ex-pats living in Budapest in the early nineties enthralled me. The characters are interesting, and the writing is wonderful and so evocative of that time and place. But then the novel loses its magic somewhere in the middle. At that juncture, the story is flaccid and the characters are wooden. There is a particular scene in which the author introduces a character in a very long sequence that bothers me. The introduction of said character should have been better. There are other inconsistencies in this novel. Finishing this novel was a chore. Alas, it is still worth reading, if only for its brilliant premise. Just don't believe the hype....more info
  • awash in adverbs
    I want to read this book, I even want to like it. After two chapters I am so drowning in a multitude of adverbs and awkward phrasing ("a young man who recently asserted quarter seriously that he...", p. 8) that I don't know if I can or will finish it.

    Still trying, giving 2 stars for ambition, taking away 3 for the obvious lack of a good editor. Hope to scan the whole thing if I can. Dropping the adverbs alone might cut the book length by a hundred pages... and sell more copies....more info

  • One dark little novel....
    I actually enjoyed Prague but I would've liked it a lot more if it hadn't been hyped as a light-hearted romp through expatriate life. You can't blame the author for that but believe me, this is a pretty dark book. Really, from what happens to the characters, you'd have to think that living in Budapest was about as psychologically damaging as serving in Vietnam.

    On the other hand, if you're looking for a black comedy, you could do worse. I liked Phillips' writing (I found it leisurely, you might find it glacial) and as a American living abroad, I found his insights spot on. Sometimes, you just can't change yourself by changing the scenery. And really, while the Lost Generation were legendary boozers, isn't there a bit more to expat life than endless drinking games?

    Anyway, I thought it was pretty good book. Just be warned it's a bit different from how it's been sold....more info
  • Flat, two-dimensional characters=flat, two-dimensional novel
    A good friend of mine recommended Prague and, given that recommendation and the many excellent reviews, I very much looked forwarded to reading this book. I was very much disappointed.

    While the book began promising enough, in the end, I found it difficult to muster enough enthusiasm to finish this novel. I wasn't interested enough in any of the characters to find out what was to become of them. While the author clearly intends many of the characters to be extremely well-developed, three-dimensional personalities, they are all, including the protagonist, flat, two-dimensional characters whose actions make little to no sense. I don't care that the characters are "mean" (hell, Seinfeld is one of my favorite) shows; I do, however, care that I don't understand why the characters are mean....more info

  • Prague? Does this guy know where he's at?
    This book was an utter waste of time. For once I regretted my mother's upbringing of finishing what I started. I bought this book because of it's stellar reviews and because of it's cover, thinking I'd get a good read about my beloved Prague. I was shocked to find that despite chapter headings to the contrary the entire book takes place in Budapest with characters one couldn't care less about, who are into drinking, sex and sordid art.
    Budapest being as beautiful as it is and being called the Venice of the East one should think the author could have found more beautiful and interesting things to write about.
    I thought about selling this book used so it wouldn't waste valuable space on our bookshelves, but I can't do that to my poor fellow human beings... Even 1* is too much - it should have been a total 0!...more info
  • Interesting Beginning but Then??
    Rarely does one read more than 300 pages and wonder what? What was the point? Was there a point? While I hate to admit this and fear that I might have missed something, I'm not sure what I just finshed reading in this book.

    The protagonist (John) shows up in Budapest to hang out with his brother and a few other Amercian and Canadian expats who all have legitimate questions about life and their direction. That's the hopeful beginning of this book (which is set in Budapest and not Prague) and could have kept my interest. Unfortunately characters come and go in this book and in the end, almost everyone ends up disappointing you.

    Somewhere in the middle of the book is the rebirth of a Hungarian publishing house after the fall of Communism. While that sounds hopeful and uplifting, even the means of how it is reborn is somewhat shady and ethically challenged. Perhaps this is kind of the theme for the entire book. Life after Communism is full of promise and ideals but in the end, people do take liberties and look out for themselves.

    The same thing happens with many of the relationships between the characters of this book too. That's why I came away from the book disliking most of the people and wondering why I spent the time and effort to read the book.

    In short, I hope you didn't find this review confusing and pointless, but if you did, it only reflects the lack of purpose and direction with this book....more info

  • Tedious and self-indulgent
    First I should say that this book makes a decent backdrop if you're spending some time in Budapest - the descriptions of the city and its people are sharp, witty and perhaps even accurate. Soon enough, you'll start recognizing not only the famous sights, but will start seeing the book's characters in the inhabitants.

    Alas, altough the book gets off to a good start, and you develop a faint interest in its characters, it gets tedious, self-indulgent, and just boring. There's a wonderful page-turner of a history chapter in the middle, but it's all downhill from there. By the end, I lost interest in all of the characters, their endless rondezvous, contrived conversations, silly dealings... I lost my suspension in disbelief and just wanted the book to end. It should have ended about 100 pages sooner. But I persisted until the end, with little reward.

    Arthur Phillips is clearly a talented writer, but this book seems somewhat immature, forced, and conceited. And I hope the editing is more aggressive next time around.

    And really, I wanted to like the book. I really tried... But I can't really recommend it beyond the first half. ...more info
  • Prague
    I thought this book was awful. As many other people said, it starts out well- I thought I was going to enjoy it. But about 3/4 of the way through (after forcing myself to keep reading in the hopes that it would improve) I realized that none of the characters were likeable or even sympathetic. I'm sure there are people like this but I really don't want to waste my time reading about them. Also, it seems like the author wants to show off all of these writing techniques and ideas that he has- it's not necessary to cram all of this into one book. One other thought- I thought the descriptions of the artwork of one of the characters was ridiculous. Just because you're a writer doesn't mean you have good ideas about painting or photography, buddy. All the characters are so in awe of this artwork and it's so cheesy! I think Phillips overestimates the shock value of sex in general. It's ironic because he tries so hard to be modern and he is such a throw-back. Obviously Phillips is bright and has a lot to say- I guess I just find him trite and overly impressed with himself....more info
  • A coming of age novel for the 90s
    I first came across Arthur Phillips with his second novel, "The Egyptologist," which is remarkable. I picked up "Prague" expecting something other than a coming of age novel. I was not disappointed.

    Phillips is a marvelous writer. His characters have depth and cannot fail to remind you of people you've known where and whenever you "came of age." The quest for identity and life's purpose may have occured in Des Moines or, as it does here, in Budapest. The story remains the same unless lives are interrupted by great events such as war, depression and famine.

    Here the characters face no such distractions. A bunch of young people are attempting to find themselves. Some do; some don't. the beauty of Phillips' storytelling is how the characters interact with each other.

    John Price follows his estranged brother Scott to Budapest and finds a job writing for a newspaper aimed at expatriates. Emily Oliver is a young woman working for the American Embassy. Mark Dayton is an academic searching for the roots - and comfort - of nostalgia. Charles Gabor is am ambitious junior in a venture capital firm, hoping to strike it rich in the opportunities of newly emerging, post-Soviet states,

    There is not so much a plot here as the unfolding of individual lives. Each of the characters grow in their own ways; each of them is disappointed and in some cases crushed by the ways their lives unfold.

    In many ways - and this is not a negative - "Prague" is a collection of biographies. There is no great truth to be found in Phillips work, but rather the satisfaction of following total strangers for a time and learning their inner thoughts. The reader can smugly yell out "you'll be sorry!" when a decision is made that you know will take the character down the wrong path. It's also easy enough to be reminded of how sharp the satisfaction was when in your youth you took a chance, didn't listen to your friends and turned out to be right.

    Arthur Phillips is an important new novelist. Having read both his works --- which are as different as night and day --- I look forward to his future writing.

    Jerry...more info
  • Surprise Trickster
    This is the best piece of fiction I've read this year. Amazed at this first book from Arthur Phillips, I found myself wholly won over by the literary devices: changes in tone, in point-of-view, in pacing which would ordinarily have reeked too much of the fertile, if composted, ground of the writing workshop. In this case, and within the first couple of chapters, I belonged entirely to the world of the novel, artificial or none, and placed myself squarely in its author's nimble hands, which allowed my surprise, and often, delight to mediate my experience of Budapest through the eyes of "the lost generation," rather than my critical faculty. All I can say about Phillips is that he lives in Paris, he's young, and extremely talented. Prague is the sort of novel on which reputations, and reified loves of literature are built. ...more info
  • weekly coiffed, weakly coughed
    Without part II, I would imagine that several of the reviews would improve to 4 and 5 stars. Mine sure would. In the couple pages of Q&A with Phillips at the end of my trade paperback edition, he seems to admit that this was bound to upset most readers. You could skip this entire section and get just as much as I did out of the book.

    Aside from this long and pretty close to immaterial digression, the novel held my interest reasonably well. The characters are beautifully flawed. The plot is slow but meaningful.

    If you're wondering about the title of my review, it stuck out as one of the few moments I caught Phillips consciously trying to be cute. He uses those two expressions 6 words away from each other in one sentence. If you're intrigued by that, read the book. ...more info
  • Flawed First Novel Imitates Hemingway
    This somewhat flawed first novel is hampered by overlong sentences but still has some good things going for it and perhaps deserves 4 stars, but I can't change my rating now. It is about 5 American expatriates living in newly capitalistic Budapest, and it tries to portray Budapest as where "it is at" in Europe in the post-Communist era, somewhat like Hemingway did for Paris of the 1920's in "A Moveable Feast." It would interest anyone planning a trip to Budapest since it has lots of European ambience, as well as Communist bullet holes from the past. I wasn't quite sure what it was--history or farce-- but I've concluded it is at least half a farce. It is about an important historic subject, the fall of communism and rise of American capitalism in Eastern Europe(though it takes place during the 1st Gulf War)since 1989, and takes place in Budapest, not Prague, where the author lived for several years. The novel contains a good deal of interesting information about the history of communism in Budapest and about Hungarian history in general, and numerous hilarious scenes in nighttime venues such as jazz clubs,party bars, a Halloween party, sex clubs, cafes, where the expatriates hang out, as well as numerous sex scenes. These nighttime scenes form the backdrop for the daytime capitalistic exploits of the 5 young American expatriates who are the main protagonists. We find out all about them and their family histories,and they are all interesting in different ways,so it is at least 1/2 an American novel. There are also a number of interesting secondary characters, including a elderly,motherly jazz singer, the owner of a Hungarian printing house in the family for 5 generations,a young vivacious American collage artist, and an Australian media mogul.
    ...more info
  • A Very Different Opinion
    Wow, it looks like I'm very much in the minority on this book! I am used to that, but usually it's the other way around -- I find myself seriously underewhelmed by the latest "it book".

    I guess I'll open with the most controversial item -- I loved this book! No, it's not a perfect book, but the writing is just beautiful. The descriptions may be wordy, but after finishing Prague I could see myself on the streets of Budapest and I knew I'd immediately recognize each character if I bumped into him/her on a Buda ut. Who cares if the characters aren't likeable? So what if they don't figure out their life purposes in the span of a few hundred pages. There's no grand ending to neatly wrap up the fate of 1990s expats -- shocking! I'll admit that there is no sigh of contentment at the end of Prague akin to Jake's exit in The Sun Also Rises, but why does that matter so much? Furthermore, why is everyone in such a snit about the setting being Budapest rather than Prague? It may have been a cheap gimmick (as some contend), but I liked it.

    Now that I've attempted to defend Prague, I'll just say why I liked it.
    First, the writing -- it sucked me in and kept me there. I had to use a dictionary a few times, but it was worth it. Prague is one of the rare books that made me want to flip back to page one and start over when I finished. In fact, I did reread the opening few pages upon finishing the book. The last book that made me do that was The Secret History (talk about nasty characters!). I will admit that I didn't care for the digression in the middle dealing with the history of the Hungarian Revolution and the Horvath press, but that was over quickly enough. I think a lot of the "pace" complaints might be due to the historical sidetrack.
    Second, I thought the characters WERE interesting. Lots of folks are harping on the boring characters and while I didn't "like" them in the sense that I would want to be best buddies with them, I did find them interesting. I thought Phillips did a nice job of building each character (except maybe Emily) so that his actions, if viewed in isolation, seem strange and perhaps immoral, but if viewed in the context of the character himself -- well, each action is understandable and perhaps even inevitable. I reallly did feel that I knew each character (again with the possible exception of Emily) by the end. In fact, I actually felt sad for all of them. With most books my overall reaction is mostly influenced by plot details, humor, pace, etc., but the setting and the characters made this book.

    I really do think it was my favorite book of 2002. Others may disagree, but I certainly think it deserves better than it's getting here....more info

  • Prague by Arthur Phillips
    Although the old world "flavor" of this book is wonderfully executed, I have to be honest. I find that after nearly two weeks of trying to work my way through it (and work it is!) I still could care less about the characters, and even find that as I work through each page I have a difficult time even remembering who they are and how they relate to each other. Although their names are common, they slip away within moments of putting the book down after another terribly trying and boring chapter. I find that I just don't care what is going to happen to any of them enough to even remember that basic character fact. As far as I'm concerned, this one is a no-brainer. Don't Bother, and I'd check out any future novels by Arthur Phillips from the library first to see if he improves any before buying....more info
  • Worse than a bad Mexican soap opera - zero stars
    Ever watched one of those really poorly done Mexican soap operas? This was just that painful. I was really looking forward to this book as my family is Hungarian. I know all of the locations in the book and thought it would be enjoyable to visit them again, though in print. It was not. This book was garbage from beginning to end. There was not a single character I cared one bit about. Kept expecting it would get better, but it never did. What a terrible disappointment of a hyped up book. Pity is wasn't available at my library, as I had to spend the money on Phillips'junk. this was my book group book for the month. We all try not to discuss how we are liking a book during the month, and to wait until our meeting. We met last night and the was NOT ONE person who didn't agree this was the worst book ever....more info
  • actually, worse than 1 star
    I also bought it because I love Prague and because of the seemingly unanimous critical acclaim. This book just provides more proof that external gloss does not always mean substance inside the covers. This is the furthest thing from a beautiful book. If you love language and think that its ultimate goal should be clarity of thought and not obscurity, you will be as annoyed by the end of the first chapter as I was. The sentence structure and wording smack of pretension and self-conscious cleverness. Sentences are unnecessarily complicated and paragraphs meander away from any central purpose. The author regularly sprinkles in superluous/meaningless adjectives ("AMUSING boots"? "HUMOROUS nose"?) and constructs inelegant phrases ("...Mark Payton comes from Canada,.., where it doesn't look like this.."); it is difficult not to have the immediate impression that the author is going out of his way to appear profound. I am saddened to read that so many are fooled by these transparently awkward devices.

    Even if one has a fantastic, original story to tell--which I am not sure is entirely the case--nothing warrants this intentional abuse of language....more info

  • B as in Boring...
    What a profound disappointment this book turned out to be! After waiting months for this book to finally be available at the library, I find myself endeavoring to pore through a narrative of dreary tedium....sad to say, this is one I will not finish....or should I say, can not finish because of its soporific effects....more info
  • The Long and Winding Novel
    I finished this book and shortly after found an online reading group with the author. It was interesting to see his perspective and that of others, but I was left feeling as though I didn't read the same book as the one they were discussing. Several of the participants had "ex-pat" stories of their own and maybe it was my perspective that was lacking. I join another reviewer in suggesting the temptation to skip over paragraph after paragraph of seemingly endless and unnecessary detail to somehow wrestle a plot from the pages of this novel. At one point I felt like I might finally be on board, when the author decides to temporarily drop the story and begin a new thread. Overall, I felt that this novel was more work than fun for me, but I'm glad to hear that others liked it. ...more info
  • Actually, it's a page-turner
    Just wanted to raise the rating of this very fine (but not perfect) novel and make a few points:

    1. I, for one, found this book so gripping that I stayed up all night to finish it in one sitting. I literally couldn't put it down. At one point, I thought about going to the kitchen for a glass of water, but decided that I'd rather stay thirsty and read. Now, I'm probably the ideal reader for this particular novel (male, American, white, born in the early '70s, spent time in Hungary in the '90s, now in English grad school working on a dissertation that is, sort of, a history of nostalgia), but I think anyone can admire Phillips's cleverness, his mastery of irony, and his deep emotional concerns.

    2. That said, the emotions that concern him most deeply are narcissistic longing and nostalgia. If you don't find solipsism interesting (as a topic of conversation, if not as a way of life), you probably won't like this much. But if you like, say, _Tristram Shandy_ or Salinger's Seymour stories, or maybe _Infinite Jest_, or _Midnight's Children_, you'll probably love it.

    3. That is to say, Phillips is at his best with the deeply personal stories of people locked in their own minds. In contrast, his much-lauded attempt at history strikes me as irresponsible. The twentieth-century-Hungary-as-seen-by-Imre-Horv¨¢th bit seems to me every bit as dishonest as twentieth-century-America-as-seen-by-Forrest-Gump: a self-serving recapitulation of generational clich¨¦s. That this sort of history seems to have quite a bit of currency in Hungary doesn't make it good.

    Anyway, that's my 2 fill¨¦rs....more info

  • Subtitle: the power of slick marketing
    I confess I did not finish this book. I read to about page 80 or so and was so bored with it I put it down. I tried to figure out why I bought it in the first place, and have concluded the novel's 'buzz' is more an attribute the authors marketing skills then any literary merit.

    I was always curious if a generation of anglo american writers would emerge out of the expatriot communities in prague and budhepest (which is where this novel takes place, in spite of its title), and so far the answer is no.

    Some would say it's not fair to enter a review having partially read it. Fair enough, I can't judge it past page 80, but in my opinion if you can't grab a reader's interest in 80 pages, you're not a good writer.

    Maybe Books are like 'friends' some people make friends with some people others find dull. Perhaps this is the case with this book.

    If you are looking for something in the same genre, catlin macy's rules of play wasn't bad....more info

  • tedious and awful
    i hated reading this book:

    (1) the language is pretentiouly self conscious and awkward, in short it is poorly written.

    (2)the characters are unidimensional caricatures and uninteresting.

    (3)it really has no insights or anything interesting to say

    do not waste your time or money...more info
  • Disappointing
    I read much of the first chapter in the store, and I thought the method of introducing the main characters was so well done that I bought the book. It went downhill from there.

    I never would post a negative review just for the sake of doing so. I love books, and I genuinely look for things to like in all of them. I try to stay positive until I've finished a book, and not to let first, second or third perceptions become set in stone until I've finished. This one really challenged my ability to do that.

    I agree with others who say it needs a more competent editor. I was frequently distracted by sections that I thought were seriously in need of help. For example there was one (certainly not the only one, just one that I remember) about one of the secondary characters whose hair was pulled back so tight that you could "count every one of her hairs as they came out of the follicles." (Or something like that.) Someone to say, "you know, Arthur, we can stop after 'hairs,'" would have been welcome. (That's just a little silly way to make the point about a larger editorial issue.) The more significant problems were, well, the story, the characters, and the excessive devotion to not-particularly-well-described or important details. There are certainly books that are about the details, and that can be enjoyed entirely or nearly entirely for the author's descriptive prowess. Not this book, though.

    Why three stars? Well, I knew nothing about ex-pat life in nascent post-communist eastern europe, and very little about Hungary. That kept the pages turning. The author also did a nice job of sticking to what I imagine was the central "pitch" for the book in the first place -- a book about five people who reflect and embody the ambiguity and transition of the city in which they find themselves. Budapest emerges as the sixth character that helps us understand the other five, and so Phillips achieves what I imagine was one of his central goals.

    But, dang, is it tedious at times. ...more info
  • A Very Different Opinion
    Wow, it looks like I'm very much in the minority on this book! I am used to that, but usually it's the other way around -- I find myself seriously underewhelmed by the latest "it book".

    I guess I'll open with the most controversial item -- I loved this book! No, it's not a perfect book, but the writing is just beautiful. The descriptions may be wordy, but after finishing Prague I could see myself on the streets of Budapest and I knew I'd immediately recognize each character if I bumped into him/her on a Buda ut. Who cares if the characters aren't likeable? So what if they don't figure out their life purposes in the span of a few hundred pages. There's no grand ending to neatly wrap up the fate of 1990s expats -- shocking! I'll admit that there is no sigh of contentment at the end of Prague akin to Jake's exit in The Sun Also Rises, but why does that matter so much? Furthermore, why is everyone in such a snit about the setting being Budapest rather than Prague? It may have been a cheap gimmick (as some contend), but I liked it.

    Now that I've attempted to defend Prague, I'll just say why I liked it.
    First, the writing -- it sucked me in and kept me there. I had to use a dictionary a few times, but it was worth it. Prague is one of the rare books that made me want to flip back to page one and start over when I finished. In fact, I did reread the opening few pages upon finishing the book. The last book that made me do that was The Secret History (talk about nasty characters!). I will admit that I didn't care for the digression in the middle dealing with the history of the Hungarian Revolution and the Horvath press, but that was over quickly enough. I think a lot of the "pace" complaints might be due to the historical sidetrack.
    Second, I thought the characters WERE interesting. Lots of folks are harping on the boring characters and while I didn't "like" them in the sense that I would want to be best buddies with them, I found them interesting. I thought Phillips did a nice job of building each character (except maybe Emily) so that his actions, if viewed in isolation, seem strange and perhaps immoral, but if viewed in the context of the character himself -- well, each action is understandable and perhaps even inevitable. I reallly did feel that I knew each character (again with the possible exception of Emily) by the end. In fact, I actually felt sad for all of them. With most books my overall reaction is mostly influenced by plot details, humor, pace, etc., but the setting and the characters made this book.

    I really do think it was my favorite book of 2002. Others may disagree, but I certainly think it deserves better than it's getting here....more info

  • waste of time
    It took me a year to read this book and I am 50 pages shy of finishing it and still not understand why it's called Prague when the action is in Budapest. At times it was the description of the city (Budapest) that kept me turning the pages, especially that I visited Prague and Budapest long time ago and the book brought back nice memories. Other than this and occasional wonderful and witty phrases, the action gets boring, the characters got mixed up in my head (especially after pauses in reading), everything is so lax.... ...more info
  • Living outside of language
    Scott Price liked living outside of language, as a foreigner, in Budapest. Emily Oliver shared a bungalow with two girls from the embassy. Charles Gabor was a venture capitalist. Scott's brother John was in Budapest, too.

    Gabor's parents had left Hungary in 1956. His parents met in Cleveland. Charles's, (Karoly's), first language was Hungarian. Scott Price taught a class in advanced conversation. John Price had always liked to read. Pest's 19th century homes had eroded for five or six decades. Hungarians had all been required to learn Russian. Mark Payton was a Canadian. He was a man obsessed with the past. When Mark learned of the existence of CNN he was reminded of old newsreel footage. John Price wondered what he sought in post-Communist Central Europe.

    Charles Gabor had a west-facing window with a view of the Danube. He evaluated business proposals for the financial institutions employing him. He began to consider his stay in Hungary as coming to a back water, a public relations stunt. Charles had business school training, he had natural acumen, he must be qualified to run something he thought to himself.

    Then Charles met Imre Horvath of Horvath Press founded in 1808. The Communists never changed the name of Horvath. Charles toured the Horvath Verlag offices. Nadja, an Hungarian pianist, amused John Price and Emily with stories of her life. John met Imre Horvath. He did a series called 'Hungarians you should know.' Mark Payton disappeared. Imre Horvath had a stroke. John told Emily he loved her. Charles and John ran into the artist, Nicky. Emily is present at the encounter, too.

    Charles, to John's surprise and interest, was elevated to the status of a minor celebrity. To John he know seemd to be a sort of monster.

    The book is good fun. ...more info
  • Pretty good read...
    As I started I felt like I was reading one of those arrogant first-efforts with ridiculously inciteful and witty characters that newer authors tend to put out. After a while I softened my take (you get used to them) and was swept up in the story. At any rate, the writing is quite good, the story was pretty interesting, and the theme resonated well with me.

    It's an interesting glimpse of ex-pat culture. That being said, I don't think the point of the book was ex-pat culture at all, rather that feeling that everyone, everywhere, at every point in time has that they're missing the action, that it's somewhere else or with someone else or irretrievably in the past. In that sense, Budpest is an appropriate setting. The characters see the fall of communism as a chance to begin again, to get in on the ground floor of something fresh and exciting and malleable. As excited as they are in Budapest, word is that everything in Prague is a little better. As the book progresses the characters become disillusioned in Hungary, and it becomes clear that the disppointment has nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with the characters and the failure of their particular expectations. At then end of the book the main character, unsatisfied in Budapest, finally leaves for Prague, "a city where surely anything is possible." Surely.

    I'm giving it 4 stars instead of 3 because it promped me to go read some of the books that Phillips suggests in the reader's guide in the back of the book. ...more info
  • Good Start, Horrid Middle
    Prague comes in the form of four main chapters. The first one is passable: it's a reasonably clever, amusuing introduction to five characters not nearly as quirky or likeable as they could be, but they seem to be fairly good company. And of course, the promise of Prague looms throughout. The five drink and make merry and alterately scoff at and support each other in the backdrop of 1990, which Pillips reminds us ad nauseam as being a particuarly oppressive time.

    The second chapter, however, digresses (and, yes, it's far too early for a digression in a story that hasn't even established what it's about yet) about a family-run publishing company that spans 100 years of Budapest. I know it's an allegroy/metaphor/etc., but it's a god-awful dreary one, and it undermines any appeal that the characters built up in the first place.

    It falters at that point and never recovers....more info

  • Arthur Phillips' first published novel
    This is the author's first novel, which preceded his most interesting "The Egyptologist," which I also have reviewed on Amazon. The two books are somewhat different in approach, except they both reflect an innovative writing style and a tremendous command of the factual background in which each novel is situated. This novel is set in Budapest [why it is called "Prague" is well explained in an interview of the author included in the book] of the early 1990's, not too long after the fall of Communism. The author lived for several years in the city, and it shows in his meticulous command of details, settings, business practices, and local folkways. The story focuses upon a group of five or six Americans living for some reason in Budapest, which combine to form three central narratives. My main complaint is that there is a tremendous amount of detail packed into the 360 or so pages of the novel, and things can get mixed up unless the reader remains alert. There is probably too much detail, but that is a matter of taste. As with the "Egyptologist," the author loves a good surprise ending and has a rather dramatic one at the conclusion of this book. While probably too long, Phillips' has just the most unique way of writing novels, even though he may not always bat a thousand. A challenging read with many virtues....more info
  • Beautiful prose, not so interesting story or characters
    I believed the blurbs on the book that this was, finally, writing akin to the lost generation of ex-pats after WWI. I was sucked in by the hype, hoping for a book that would speak to my generation, and perhaps start a New Thing.

    But I hope it does not, for if it does, the new thing is only that of self-centered "Hey look at me!" gee-whiz-bangery.

    I will say, the prose in the book is beautiful. Phillipis is an artist with words. But the "Hey look at me cleverness!" of his writing style wears thin quickly, and one soon realizes that excessive detail and flowery prose is all he's working on, and the book eventually becomes tedious.

    Unlike that initial set of ex-pats, Phillips is unconcerned with story, and more concerned with making sure we all know how clever he is with word usage.

    He should have taken the attention to detail and florid prose of the first 20 pages, and smeared it out over the whole thing to make the cleverness part less dense. Then he would have had more room to develop characters that we would care about, situations that are interesting, and a story that is compelling. Sadly, as much as I really, really wanted to enjoy this book and be excited by it, I enjoyed it only minimally, and am not excited enough about it to recommend it to anyone. It wasn't a waste of my time, but I would rather have read something else.

    perhaps Phillips will lose his self-absorption, and turn out better books later. He appears that he might have the skill to do so....more info

  • Life Is Elsewhere
    I recently read a really engaging book, Prague by Arthur Phillips. A great first novel set, actually, in Budapest in the early 90s. I could relate to the characters and their experiences in several ways. This edition was a reading group edition with an interview with the author and discussion question. One question asks why the novel is called Prague if it takes place in Budapest. His answer is:

    "The novel is named not for a city, but for an emotional disorder. Milan Kundera wrote a marvelous book called Life Is Elsewhere (set in Prague, incidentally) that touches on the same idea: if only I were there, or with her, or doing that, or born fifty years earlier, then I would be where the action is. So for some expatriates living in Budapest, Prague felt like the place to be. Had those same people been in Prague, Budapest would have seemed like their paradise misplaced..." from A Conversation With The Author

    I really liked Life is Elsewhere, too, Kundera is one of my favorite contemporary authors. So one of the main ideas in the novel is that of the idealized past nostalgia for an era one didn't live in. But there's more, the quest for finding oneself that sometimes involves others, the fragility/difficulties of relationships and more. A very thought provoking and entertaining novel....more info
  • Disappointment
    I have to say that even though this book at times made me chuckle or sit back and think; it did not inspire, entertain, or on any level feel as if it was a great book.

    The novel fails on many levels to actually have a story line. You do become fascinated at times with the character development but you are left at the end saying "so what". The novel soon becomes almost tedious to read. The saving grace is Phillip's ability to make a few lines or thoughts stand out to keep you reading....more info

 

 
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