Prague: A Novel
Prague: A Novel

 
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Product Description

A first 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¡ªfinancial, romantic, and spiritual¡ªin an exotic city newly opened to the West. They harbor the vague suspicion that their counterparts in Prague, where the atmospheric decay of post¨CCold War Europe is even more cinematically perfect, have it better. Still, they hope to find adventure, inspiration, a gold rush, or history in the making. What they actually find is a deceptively beautiful place that they often fail to understand. 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?

Journalist John Price finds these questions impossible to answer yet impossible to avoid, though he tries to forget them in the din of Budapest¡¯s nightclubs, in a romance with a secretive young diplomat, at the table of an elderly cocktail pianist, and in the moody company of a young man obsessed with nostalgia. Arriving in Budapest one spring day to pursue his elusive brother, John finds himself pursuing something else entirely, something he can¡¯t quite put a name to, something that will draw him into stories much larger than himself.

With humor, intelligence, masterly prose, and profound affection for both Budapest and his own characters, Arthur Phillips not only captures his contemporaries but also brilliantly renders the Hungary of past and present: the generations of failed revolutionaries and lyric poets, opportunists and profiteers, heroes and storytellers.


From the Hardcover edition.

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:

  • 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

  • Reminds me of Seinfeld
    "Prague" reminds me of "Seinfeld", and I say this as an admirer of "Seinfeld". The group of expatriates enjoys being together, and you enjoy their conversations; they are willing to do things for each other, but there is a lack of commitment; notwithstanding Scott's romantic idealization of a woman totally unsuitable for him, there is a proud lack of sentimentality. There is a focus on sexual liaisons, but no successful relationships (despite one marriage).

    The ideas discussed are sometimes more serious than those discussed in Seinfeld, but while the novel appeals to one's intellect, this is not a novel of ideas. Mark Payton's theories of nostalgia actually make some sense, but are not to be taken too seriously. The Hungarian publisher, and the need to sometimes choose between integrity and accommodation are serious, but Phillips makes him something of a buffoon at the end - too much so to my taste. In fact the novel occasionally drags, mostly in some of the drunken scenes involving the publisher.

    The prose as well as the dialogue is good, and several of the characters are wonderfully sensitive to the beauty and history of their surroundings, undoubtedly reflecting the author.

    ...more info
  • Awful
    One of the worst books I've ever read. I kept thinking it had to get better, that it would hook me if I just kept going. I was wrong. A painful experience from beginning to end. Overwritten, thin on the whole story-line thing, and characters that ranged from boring to unlikeable. ...more info
  • Beautiful prose-a promising first novel!
    
    Prague tells the story of a lost generation in Budapest. The city of Prague is a dream-the place that the characters believe would be better than where they are now. The story suffers from a lack of commitment to its protagonists-the story shifts from person to person. By the middle of the book I found it difficult to care about the night club crawling main characters who seemed to live to get obscenely drunk and smoke cigarettes. The mood of the story evoked an earlier time-perhaps the author emulates F. Scott Fitzgerald and attempted to write a neo-jazz age novel.

    The almost protagonist, John (who I suspect is the author when he lived in Budapest) is longing for relationship in a world of rejection. His older brother hates him and he becomes obsessed with women who spurn him. The only one who tolerates him is an elderly night club pianist. The ending of the story is dreary and unsatisfying.

    Despite these drawbacks, the author has the ability to describe fascinating characters and insert charming or heart-wrenching adjunct events in a way that keeps the narrative alive. I imagine that some of the faults of this novel are due to a new author's use of his own life narrative. I will definitely read his next novel--particularly if it really is fiction!...more info
  • Yawn
    Tired. That's how this book made me feel. Fortunately, I loved Phillips's other book, The Egyptologist.

    Expats - this is no longer the 1990's. Who cares about spoiled westerners living abroad now, anyway?...more info
  • It is not Prague but Budapest
    Arthur Philips may be an excellent writer, and his book "Prague" could very well be a masterpiece, but unfortunately the author chose "Prague" as a title for a story happening almost entirely in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Some would consider the title as some sort of a poetic twist or a cynical yet very meaningful wink at the reader as much as at the Hungarians themselves for Budapest, unlike Prague, has been descending smoothly into realms of poverty, decadence and extreme nationalism ever since the collapse of the communist regime. However, this is not the case. On a long interview for the Hungarian commercial television channel, TV2, Philips confesses that the choice of "Prague" over "Budapest"--not to mention the choice of the book cover--was made so that the book could be better sold. In his view, most Americans know absolutely nothing about Hungary in general and Budapest in particular. Prague, he says, is more familiar and hospitable to the American tourist than Budapest. Reality may be tough, Mr. Philips, but so is literary integrity....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

  • Good read.
    Great book - especially if you have ever experienced life abroad for more than a 10 day vacation or a semester 'faux-living-abroad'. Phillips has a great sense of humor and captured many of the darker aspects of life that we all subconsciously can relate to.

    Loved the Julies. Who doesn't know people like the Julies?!...more info

  • Best book I read last year
    Okay, I admit it...I'm mainly writing this review to drag the stars on Prague up. Simply put, it's a stunner...a tour de force that seems to capture a place and time (1990s Eastern Europe) as well as the sort of young Americans who gathered there. It was the best thing I read last year, and I've recommended it to everyone I know.

    It seems ridiculous to me that many of the reviewers demand that the characters all be likeable. These characters are complex, and yes, some of them aren't that likeable. But this is an elegiac, bittersweet look at twenthysomething expats in a town going through a seismic change. The characters are going through big changes, too, and that isn't always when folks are at their student-council president best. But who wants to read about people like that anyway? (And don't get me started on folks who are bothered that this is about the realities of Budapest and dreams of Prague.)

    Yep, some of these characters trample the locals and the system. Others, like the F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish John Price, find inspiration and some cause for hope. So these aren't all folks you want to pal around with? Go read a romance novel or something. I'm not clear that I was likeable in my 20s, so demanding that of characters seems a little feeble.

    But why did I love this book? The way Phillips makes it about the city and about the experience, and not merely a character study. I was sitting reading this looking at gorgeous Montana lake, and his evocative passages about cafes and castles made me want to leave Glacier National Park and hop a flight to Budapest. I'm sorry, but I think that's damn fine writing. One and two-star, he's not....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
  • Prolix
    It's about a group of young North Americans in Budapest at the time of the first Bush-Hussein war. They have sexual affairs of various persuasions. Karoly or Charles Gabor is from Cleveland and is the son of 1956 emigres. He is trying to profit by the opening up of Hungary to private enterprise and plans to acquire the publishing house of Imre Horvath, a heroic survivor of the German and Russian occupations.
    The Gabor-Horvath plot doesn't start up until page 126, at which point the rest of the story is set aside and we are given forty pages of the history of the Horvath publishing house. Every now and then we come back to this plot, but mostly Phillips is interested in rich descriptions of Budapest topography and the psychological lives of his characters and the sociology of post-communist Eastern Europe. His style is rich and allusive, with much erudition about such subjects as jazz and pop music. For example "Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto's duet" meaning the Girl from Ipomema.
    The descriptions are often digressive. One scene is set in a night club in the basement of an old house. We are given the names of the jazz musicians in a mural on the wall and a three generation history of the occupants of the house.
    A melodramatic ending is rather tacked on. Two important characters. Mark and Scott, disappear long before the end.
    There is some quite wonderful bravura writing such as "the white March rain made acidic hissing noises as it drilled little siver-gray holes halfway into the depths of the crusty, brown-spotted banks of old snow " and some great dialog and humor, such as the final confrontation between John's two American loves, the shaven-headed artist Nicky and the pony-tailed embassy attach¨¦ Emily.
    With so much good writing there may have been a problem of what to cut out but this could have been cut to half the size, and left with an inconclusive ending if the author could not think of a artistically logical one.
    ...more info
  • BORING!
    We selected this book for my book group, which includes a diverse group of women and men. We were all very disappointed by this novel. We found it overwritten, boring, and pretentious. Also, there's no real story here; it seems more like a writing exercise than a novel. We read some great books in our group. Forget PRAGUE. Check out the following--all strong books with a central story, careful writing, and complex characterization--DISGRACE, by J. M. Coetzee; LIFE OF PI, by Yann Martel; MIDDLESEX, by Jeffrey Euginedes....more info
  • Better luck next time
    I will say that the author has clearly mulled over and contemplated the fates for his characters for what may have been years before the final product came to press. He knows them SO intimately, the entire book comes off as the diary of a privileged, Ivy League-educated expatriate and his poor friends who are riddled by the woes of being born in to money and opportunity. I sincerely hope that this was not Phillips's intention, because he seems to have a great passion for presenting the history and struggles of Budapest. The tone of this book is condescending, however, because he expects you to understand his passion despite the fact that the characters deserve no empathy. I get the feeling that Phillips's attitude about the readers is that if they are bored or "don't get" his novel, they are simply not up to his caliber of intelligence.

    Intelligence he may have, but I would like to see Arthur Phillips weave some craft into his expounding and stylistic quality into his experiences.

    ...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
  • all frosting, no cake
    Why is it that so many prominent reviewers are so utterly unable to distinguish the facile from the real, and endlessly mistake the decorative for the good? Prague is clever, arch, self-aware, eurudite, sometimes witty, and often well-written. It is also precious, mannered, false, cliched, and tedious. Phillips watches himself oh-so-knowingly transpose the lost generation into the modern world, winking all the way, and it's too clever by half. Good books actually step up to the plate, take real emotional risks, and don't apologize for it....more info
  • Yawn
    Tired. That's how this book made me feel. Fortunately, I loved Phillips's other book, The Egyptologist.

    Expats - this is no longer the 1990's. Who cares about spoiled westerners living abroad now, anyway?...more info
  • Defining neverland
    I have read so many great reviews of this book in papers, magazines, on line reviews. My expectations were very high by the time I was ready to pick up this book and start reading it. Not all of my expectations have been met. At the moments book does seem disjointed in its flashbacks from the past. However, it the author does capture a disconnect between two worlds - Eastern Europe and North America. No matter how hard both sides seem to want to assimilate, cooperate and coexist, they are too disparigingly apart to ever be able to meet in the middle. It is not exactly a failure of sorts but rather a mutual disappointment that connects them all. And at the end that is the only delight. Knowing that there is no end to it and trying, trying and trying again is the only way to pursue that idealistic dream. Perhards in century or two these things can eventually coexist. But until then we need to determine for ourselves if we should feel sorry for these characters, admire them for being so bold in their humble attempt to conquer the world or just plain forget aboout them as quickly as possible....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

  • Beautifully written
    This novel's verbal artistry- the choice and arrangement of simple words- is amazingly beautiful and effective. Each and every sentence is a joy to read. Also extraordinary is the author's insight into character and personality. His only "problem" is the distance below surface reality where much of the action occurs. This dream-like subjective world beneath the objective hand-to mouth existence is intriguingly painted by wondrous strokes of the pen.
    The story line sometimes blurs in this schizophrenic borderland { three star plot related by five-plus star narrative}. Nevertheless the wonderful words keep coming, drawing the reader on for more. I greatly anticipate this creative, gifted artist's next work....more info
  • Self-Indulgent But Occasionally Brilliant
    I bought this in an airport as it was about the only book on the shelf without shiny foil letters on the cover. I have a strict rule against books with shiny foil letters on the cover. I've spent some time doing the expat thing and although I am now far beyond my all-knowing 20s, I had high hopes for "Prague" that were met only intermittently.

    The opening scene in a Budapest cafe in the early 1990s was attention-grabbing and authentic. Phillips' treatment of nostalgia for what one has never experienced, and his reflections on the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, were compelling. He vividly describes Budapest. The ending was well-done and satisfying, rarely the case with modern fiction.

    Phillips is a clever and talented writer who unfortunately, in this book at least, was too in love with his own cleverness and did not know when to stop. He forgot to create characters who were more than self-absorbed obsessives, and I did not find any of them interesting or sympathetic enough to care what happened to them. Many passages went on far too long. The whole second part, detailing the history of a Hungarian publishing house, was a tedious, long-winded detour, the main objective of which appeared to be to show off Phillips' knowledge of Hungarian history rather than develop themes or characters or advance the plot. Had an editor taken a firmer hand, this could have been a far better book.

    Had I not been stuck in a long commute during the summer months, I'm not sure I would have waded all the way through this. I would not be inclined to read more by this author. ...more info
  • First half was wonderful
    The first half was so wonderful, I almost recommend reading the book and stopping at the end of Part II. This first section is beautifully written and the characters are well developed.

    However, the second half reads like trashy novel. I'm not a prude but I also don't like to waste my time reading a "novel" where the characters are obsessed with sex and have no other aspects to their life. By the end there were no reedeming qualities left to any of the characters and you don't care what happens to any of them. The second half was even more insulting & disappointing after such a wonderful first half....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
  • Intellectual tour de force?
    One might have expected this novel to be an intellectual tour de force, given that its author is a 5-time Jeopardy champion. And indeed there is a large amount of historic detail about Budapest, about the momentous fall of communism in Hungary in 1990 and on Hungary's role in European 20th century history. It was on the wrong side in both world wars. But the book is more comedic than that, starting with the title, which is a joke played on the reader. The entire novel is centered in Budapest.
    It concerns 5 young intelligent American expatriates who come to Budapest seeking their fortunes and hoping that the momentous change to capitalism will make this city the new center of European culture. The 5 come from diverse backgrounds, and much of the novel takes place in the cafes, nightclubs, jazz clubs, sex clubs, and restaurants of the newly capitalist city . A strong subplot concerns a Hungarian 5th generation publisher who suffered through 40 years of Communism and it now prepared to share ownership of his publishing house with an American entrepreneur, Charles. The novel has a zany feel to it most of the time as these young Americans pursue their rather wild lifestyles. The reporter John is in love with the rather staid and sedate midwestern girl Emily,who works at the embassy-- an unrequited passion-- and settles instead for the bald collage artist Nicky, who is a much wilder type, and the most permanent of John's numerous one-night stands. Mark is a rich homosexual and is preparing an intricate academic study of the history of nostalgia. Scott, John's brother, is an English teacher. Charles, of Hungarian descent, is a business entrepreneur eager to buy potentially profitable Hungarian businesses and convert them to American-style capitalism. ...more info
  • Vague
    This novel, entitled "Prague," is entirely set in Budapest. Isn't that very clever? Don't you think so? Don't you think it's an ever-so-clever way of encapsulating what might be called the novel's theme: That we are never happy where, or when we are, that we're always chasing down the end of some rainbow or, alternately, living in the past, where, as Proust puts it, it has pleased us to substitute a "golden age" for what actually transpired? If you do, this book will not disappoint. For all others, it will annoy to no end, as evinced by almost every review here.

    I actually let go a long sigh of relief upon reading these reviews on Amazon. It turns out that I am not the only one who finds this "clever" novel not very clever at all. To read the "professional" reviewers, whose praise is spread across three pages of my copy of the book, one might be led to believe that this book constitutes the best of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce and Proust (all four authors are mentioned in these reviews) rolled into one smashing magnum opus. Sorry, not even close.

    There are two not entirely dark spots for which I'm giving the book two stars: 1.) Mark Payton's quasi-Proustian cogitations upon his obsession with nostalgia, and 2.) The chapter covering Hungarian history under the trope of the history of Imre Horvath's publishing house.

    But the gain's not worth the candle. You're much better off reading actual Proust or actual Hungarian history. You'll only like the book if you like sentences like this one repeated ad nauseam: "Plastically handsome and weekly coiffed, he stepped aside, weakly coughed, and allowed his boss to enter the cramped luxury enclave first." Cute, isn't it? Also, it must be said, you need to be fairly well-read (I suspect this is why a neighbour foisted the book on me - At least I didn't have to pay for the bleeding thing.) For example, there's a passage in which, unless you've read a certain poem by Baudelaire, the cheaply-acquired irony will soar beyond you. But I'm not naming the poem or passage here, because I think it's probably a good thing NOT to get it. The ironies here are so gimcrack, inane and seemingly without end that it's hard not to look at the book as one long precocious schoolboy smirk.

    In conclusion, I did not like this book. You probably won't either.

    Post Scriptum - This book has two pages of those annoying "Questions for Discussion" tagged onto it, presumably for Book Club readers who stare across the table and can't think of what to say to each other and all of which should be prefaced with, "Gee, do you think..." Examples: "Gee, do you think `expatriate novels' can be considered a genre?" - "Gee, do you think Charles Gabor behaved badly?"

    Fair Warning.

    ...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
  • What happened to Story?
    Keeping in mind this is a debut novel, I kept trudging through it, looking for some reason for all the glowing reviews.

    I didn't find much, besides look-at-me prose and characters with interesting names. Plot? Conflict? Reason to turn to the next page? Couldn't find those.

    I can't give this one star because completing any novel is difficult, and it isn't Mr. Phillip's fault that all these "professional" reviewers pulled our legs. He's trying to make money and he's surrounded himself with enough "yes" people to let such drivel pass unprotested.

    But he should keep in mind Hemingway's advice that a writer needs to have an excellent "bullsh*t detector" because his book reeks of it....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

  • 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
  • What were they thinking?
    Like many readers, I bought the book because of the great reviews, and because I love Prague. I can get over the fact that the book is set almost exclusively in Budapest. Budapest is great city also. But the reviewers see something that I just don't see in this book. I hate to be repetitious, but the characters are really NOT likeable. They are whiney, self indulgent and shallow. The main character (John) is also an alcoholic. The book doesn't have much of a plot, so I'm assuming the author wrote it as a character piece. Life is too short for me to spend this many pages on characters I don't like. I am one of those people who always finished books, but this one is torture. Maybe I could lose it!...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

  • 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

  • Great short stories, not a full novel..
    "Prague" has some excellent writing, with interesting characterization in spurts. The jazz pianist and her stories, for example would make for a nice short story. The characters are funny, smart and interesting in bursts, especially John Price, but the writing is uneven. The author seemed to be trying too hard to be an intellectual "expat" in the '90's on the level of Hemingway or others from the 1920's literary generation, but the writing in "Prague" isn't even close to that level. Sure the book is funny, creative and is at times loaded with sex like a mass market paperback, but the book lacks strong literary content. It was flat-out boring during the dry spells!...more info
  • Didn't pay attention to hype; Good but flawed read
    The first part of the is novel is entitled "First Impressions". If I had gone with mine regarding this book, I would have stopped reading after the following, too-self-consciously written, almost painful passage on page 10:

    "A symbolic opening to 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 he could see that Charles liked the idea of his competitors/friends noticing the symbolism...."

    There's nothing wrong with detailed story telling and character development, but I found myself straining to go on from here.

    I decided to plow on and hope for the best. The second part of the book, which other reviewers here found painful, is where the story becomes interesting. These characters become three dimensional, if a bit over the edge, and become interesting when they most fully lose their idealism. Depressing, perhaps, but interestingly done.

    In fact, this book held my interest until the somewhat awkwardly constructed ending which left too many loose ends....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
  • The Surrealism of Nostalgia
    Prague is a novel about sincerity and the lack of it in personal and historical nostalgia. Phillips develops his characters artfully to illustrate deception in their dealings with each other and with key players in post cold war Budapest. The problem the expatriates have in the old city is the suspicion that their insight into emotions and behavior is insincere. They have lived personal fictions for so much of their young adult lives that self deception causes them to miss the reality of current events. This leads them to underestimate the local residents and humiliate themselves in the presence of the Magyar. Cynicism and irony become parameters of the characters' existence, and all they can look forward to are rueful reminiscences of their short time in Budapest. This nostalgia may take the form of the phony surrealism of the borderline personality photographer Nicky creating superficially shocking collages, or the true surrealism of emotionally surprising and haunting oral myths created by Nadja the ancient piano player in a run down jazz club. The decision is up to the reader in this very good first novel....more info
  • "prague" sat on my bookshelf for a year, and i just finished it
    and I have no idea why I was in such a hurry. The style of writing was interesting enough but a majority of the characters got on my nerves rather than entertaining me: why the character of Horvath was even in there, I don't know, Scott(John Price's brother) was just another a-hole, Charles was a yuppie a-hole who's only redeeming quality seemed to be the fact that he had a familial connection to Budapest, and Nicky was the archetypical provocative artist/pseudo-intellectual that you always run into at coffee shops when you're in college who never seem to graduate. I even disliked John for being slutty, but then of course I am a girl so I have to filter that behavior through the horrible oft-female assumption that sex equates love.
    It was a battle to finish the book with any interest: it's about 70 pages too long. If I could compare it to anything, reading "Prague" gave me the same feeling as the movie "Jarhead" with Jake Gyllenhaal - you and the characters simultaneously wait around hoping for something to pop, bang and HAPPEN, but nothing ever really does, at least nothing to write home about....more info
  • If you can't find your opportunity in Budapest, you won't find it in Prague either.
    I was looking forward to reading this book, but have to agree with several other reviewers: at times it is very slow, and if you don't have time to read for a week, it is very difficult to get back and try to remember what you read before. Not an easy read, that's for sure. I am glad I read this book, but this is not something I would want to read again - it's a lot of work to go through the hundreds of pages, and et the end only remember one character. This could have been done in a shorter format, with less "suffering", but maybe that was the point... ...more info
  • Too many preconceptions
    It is not surprising that people would not like this book if they couldn't get past the fact that they were expecting to read a book about Prague rather than Budapest, or that they had read too much hype (perhaps I'm fortunate that I didn't read anything about the book before I read the book). It is also not surprising that people who don't like the title will not like the book since the title is far more than a gimmick but really frames the book.

    This is a unique book, in style, in purpose and in form. It does not completely hold together toward the end (which is why I give it only four stars), but Phillips takes a lot of chances and manages to create some subtle and beautiful effects (in addition to being incredibly funny). To me one of the most well-rendered themes was: what is the right way to look at the new Budapest. On the one hand, we have skeptical, businesslike Americans (especially Emily and Charles) who are unwilling to be taken in by any romantic notions of Hungary's past or present; on the other end you have the Hungarians themselves who are trying to build an identity out of the rubble of their past, relying on the very history and stories that the skeptical Americans are unwilling to believe; and in the middle you have the Americans who have, at least partially, a romantic bent: John Price -- who on the one hand writes the most sneering articles about Hungary and communism, but at the same time, is somewhat desparate to believe in the stories he hears and in the romantic version of Hungary and Europe's past -- and Marc, whose character brilliantly evokes the impossibility of forcing yourself to feel something, such as nostalgia, which you don't feel, even when the conditions would appear to be right for feeling it. In the end, the romantics don't seem to fare very well, but neither do the skeptics, on whom the whole point of being in Hungary seems to be lost.

    The characters are, indeed, unpleasant, and for me this often made the book difficult to read. But they were also familiar and real. And importantly, even though Phillips clearly sees the great big flaws in his characters, he still likes them and sympathizes with them. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes writing that is funny and imaginative and that takes chances, and who comes to the book with an open mind....more info

  • Wacky Lives in Exotic Budapest after Communism
    For a first novel, Arthur Phillips did a fantastic job of capturing the wacky chaotic energy of the lives of several ex-patriate Americans who lived in Budapest, shortly after the demise of Communism. In this book, opportunity abounds to achieve wealth and fame possibly *both* for risk-takers, people who could read the signs of the times and take decisive action. Decisions plus the right connections (investors, government approval) along with some dumb luck equals success during the chaotic transition from socialism to capitalism. For the characters who lack direction, focus, and decisiveness, they languish within the primordial energy soup of their existence. The motions of their lives take on a hum drum existence, they could be living in any large city anywhere in the world.

    This is a highly complex book that has unusual depths of meaning, easy to miss when reading it on a superficial level. There are stories within stories, which makes this novel highly appealing on the creative and psychological levels. Many previous reviewers missed the hidden nuances and meaning which the author carefully disguised. Indeed, the author has captured much of the Hungarian culture and even the personality of the nation while in transition, out of Communism into capitalism. Rather than sunlight shining through a glass window, reavealing itself as white light ... this book is more like sunlight captured within a a prism and dissolving into a rainbow of colors.

    The title of the book is misleading but comprehensible when read "tongue-in-cheek". The author's writing technique is highly effective ... it is a method which reveals the overall mood in Hungary: "it is better somewhere else," "the grass is greener on the other side". There is more opportunity, more money, a better life, somewhere else and oddly enough, this feeling still exists in Hungary even today. John Price is one of the the main characters. He becomes a famous and successful writer for a newspaper, ostensibly run by an Australian editor, but who is really an American faking the accent. Charles (Karoly) Gabor is the American born son of Hungarian immigrants who achieves his goal, to become a large shareholder in a Hungarian business. The business has a long history of success since it had survived many regimes and political changes in Hungary. Although, after Communism, it became run-down due to mismanagement. Charles successfully negotiated to become a business partner with Imre Horvath, the sole surviving heir of this historical publishing house. Imre had fled to Vienna where he created another successful publishing business based on the old Hungarian books published by the original company. However, the price of success was too high. There is a twist to the ending of this novel which is totally unexpected. A great tragedy befell Imre but luckily he survived, with the help of his loyal secretary Krisztina Toldy.

    Another eccentric character is, Nadja, an aging jazz singer, who has lived a very exciting life, travelled throughout the world, having been married several times, and had various lovers from all walks of life but is there some dark secret she is hiding? John Price befriends her at the jazz club where she peforms. He enjoys her zest, zeal and energy for life. John came to Budapest to mend fences with his brother Scott. Scott teaches English to Hungarians in an English language school. Scott becomes romantically involved with Maria, one of his Hungarian students. While she has dreams of escaping to the West with him; he has the need to be as far away from his family, especially his brother John, as possible. To Maria's chagrin, instead of going West, they move farther East ... to Transylvania. Yet, despite their differences, they carry on a torrid affair which leads to marriage. In the meantime, John is burning a torch for Emily the administrative assistant to the American Ambassador to Hungary. Emily has conservative values which eventually dampens his ardor though John never quite gets over desiring Emily. During one of his weekend excursions to a local nightclub, John meets Nicky, a successful modern artist, who shaves her head. She is one of the wackiest but most honest characters in the book. Surprisingly, Emily's conservative upbringing melts away as she falls into an unpredictable lifestyle ...

    One of the hallmarks of great writing is being surprised by the ending of a book. This book has such an ending. This author possesses two major writing strengths, the first is character development and the second is unexpected twists or curves in the plot. These are two highly commendable attributes for a new author. This book is highly recommended for people who like complex stories with unexpected surprise endings. Erika Borsos (erikab93)

    ...more info
  • Just the right touch when in Budapest
    I usually try to read novels about places we have seen or will soon travel to, and I'm always looking for ways to write better descriptions of places in my own novels (please see my new New York City based legal thriller, A Good Conviction, and my historical novel The Heretic (Library of American Fiction) set in 15th century Spain. The settings presented in Prague described aspects of Budapest beautifully and enhanced our trip greatly.

    Prague is the story of five ex-patriots living in Budapest in 1990, just after Hungary became an independent nation. It is very self-consciously written, and is best read slowly and savored.

    I'm not usually interested in the exploits of spoiled twenty-somethings, but the characters become interesting and are well developed. The caring descriptions of the streets, bridges, coffee houses and nightclubs of Budapest added just the right touch to our first few days as visitors in the city.

    There is a long section, which, as a writer of historical fiction myself, I particularly enjoyed, tracing the last few hundred years of Budapest's history through the ups and downs of a fictional publishing house. The only caveat is that the author says, in his notes at the end of the book, that it would be foolish to take his novel as accurate history. However, I also read several histories in preparation for our trip, and I think he's got it quite right enough.

    Good reading for anyone planning a trip to Budapest....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

  • 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

  • A snarky spin on the ex-pat life
    For any American who ever wandered around Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Arthur Phillips' "Prague" will probably strike a nostalgic chord. It's a story about a quintet of Westerners -- four Americans and a Canadian -- who find themselves living in Budapest in 1990 and 1991. These five 20-somethings are all escapees, hunkering down behind the fallen Iron Curtain to get away from their unfulfilled lives back home. Of course, it isn't that easy. The same frusrations and self-doubts that dogged them in the West very much keep them company in their adopted home.

    Skim through a few of these reviews and it quickly becomes apparent that Arthur Phillips has a knack for getting under people's skin. Count me among them. But the book didn't perturb me as much as it did others. Sure, the prose is long-winded and some of the dialogue is maddeningly inane. And the characters, with the exception of John P., are smarmy and not very likeable. Perhaps we can chalk these shortcomings up to the author's inexperience. But truth be told, I stuck with the book and actually enjoyed it, despite its obvious foibles. I think if you're in the niche audience of the ex-expat who spent a year or three in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, the book may resonate with you as well. For everyone else, don't be surprised if the story gets on your nerves from the get-go, and doesn't let go until you've finished the last page....more info
  • Falls Apart Halfway through
    While the first part of Prague consists of
    a series of delightful, wonderfully written
    vignettes and observations about expat life, going
    back and forth between its small group of central
    characters, the novel falls apart once it
    introduces -- or, more to the point, *forces* upon the
    narrative -- a superficial plot relating
    to the aquiring of a Hungarian publishing house.

    Perhaps the author was worried that simply following
    these characters around through their own lives and

    letting their own actions determine plot wouldn't be
    "meaningful," or interesting enough.

    In any case, the result is that much of the material after
    this plot is introduces feels rather contrived.

    Nevertheless, I'd recommend this book if you don't mind
    stopping in the middle of it, or trudging through an unengaging last half.

    Hopefully, Phillips' next book will pay-off on the intial
    promise of this one....more info
  • Falls Flat
    A promising first page, then the disrespect takes over. I use "disrespect" because it's clear the author doesn't think much of his readers. We spend our hard-earned money on this book, and this is what he gives us? Snarky phrases, sentences with all style and no substance, and some sort of post-modern plot that's so boring it actually made me long for a pulp novel.

    I won't give this book anything other than 1 star, because even though it's a debut, and even though writing a book is hard, and even though, even though...

    The author is a professional writer. As a reader I expect more. Stop trying to show off and give us something we can sink our teeth into....more info

  • Vague
    This novel, entitled "Prague," is entirely set in Budapest. Isn't that very clever? Don't you think so? Don't you think it's an ever-so-clever way of encapsulating what might be called the novel's theme: That we are never happy where, or when we are, that we're always chasing down the end of some rainbow or, alternately, living in the past, where, as Proust puts it, it has pleased us to substitute a "golden age" for what actually transpired? If you do, this book will not disappoint. For all others, it will annoy to no end, as evinced by almost every review here.

    I actually let go a long sigh of relief upon reading these reviews on Amazon. It turns out that I am not the only one who finds this "clever" novel not very clever at all. To read the "professional" reviewers, whose praise is spread across three pages of my copy of the book, one might be led to believe that this book constitutes the best of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce and Proust (all four authors are mentioned in these reviews) rolled into one smashing magnum opus. Sorry, not even close.

    There are two not entirely dark spots for which I'm giving the book two stars: 1.) Mark Payton's quasi-Proustian cogitations upon his obsession with nostalgia, and 2.) The chapter covering Hungarian history under the trope of the history of Imre Horvath's publishing house.

    But the gain's not worth the candle. You're much better off reading actual Proust or actual Hungarian history. You'll only like the book if you like sentences like this one repeated ad nauseam: "Plastically handsome and weekly coiffed, he stepped aside, weakly coughed, and allowed his boss to enter the cramped luxury enclave first." Cute, isn't it? Also, it must be said, you need to be fairly well-read (I suspect this is why a neighbour foisted the book on me - At least I didn't have to pay for the bleeding thing.) For example, there's a passage in which, unless you've read a certain poem by Baudelaire, the cheaply-acquired irony will soar beyond you. But I'm not naming the poem or passage here, because I think it's probably a good thing NOT to get it. The ironies here are so gimcrack, inane and seemingly without end that it's hard not to look at the book as one long precocious schoolboy smirk.

    In conclusion, I did not like this book. You probably won't either.

    Post Scriptum - This book has two pages of those annoying "Questions for Discussion" tagged onto it, presumably for Book Club readers who stare across the table and can't think of what to say to each other and all of which should be prefaced with, "Gee, do you think..." Examples: "Gee, do you think `expatriate novels' can be considered a genre?" - "Gee, do you think Charles Gabor behaved badly?"

    Fair Warning.

    ...more info
  • In defense of a favorite
    I bought this book a little over a year ago and I finished it in about two sittings. Phillips has an amazing command of the English language, which I realize has turned many off to his style of writing. As a twenty year old English Major perhaps I am slightly biased in my enamoration with his verbose, precise use of words. The main criticisms, from what I can tell, are that his characters are "boring" and "unlikable". I tend to disagree. They are REAL, which often times does mean portraying poor habits (many have condemned John as an alcholic, as if some of the great writers we all idolize were saintly) and improper decision making. These individuals are no angels, not one of them. The fact that they have made so many readers uncomfortable is further indication of their power as characters in the novel and Phillips ablility to mine the human experience for real emotions, actions and indeed even failures. That, along with his great style and sense of humor, is what makes this novel the great work it is....more info
  • Snapshot of Life in Budapest
    Writing a novel about ex-pat life in a foreign country offers 2 choices: a story that shows the city and lifestyle to outsides (usually written by casual visitors who just need a setting for their story), or a novel about real life with real people and events, for other ex-pats of the country. Despite Arthur Phillips' protestations to the contrary in the afterward (paperback edition), Prague clearly falls into the second category, starting with the title.

    "Prague" is an insider joke for residents of Budapest during the time, the city where things were really happening, the place where they all wanted to be, but weren't. But this is only hinted at in the story itself, is generally inconsequential to the plot, and unless you've lived in the area, it will not be obvious, leaving the title incomprehensible and misleading. Had the novel been written for non-expats it would have had a title that encompassed life in Budapest (for example, Coffee at the Gerbeaud, or Chain Link Bridge), or least generalized to Eastern Europe.

    What starts in the title flows through the rest of the novel - inside jokes to a small group of expats during a particular period that fail to resonate with non-residents.

    The novel also can't quite decide whether it is about a story or a character, and if a character, which one. It jumps around between characters before deciding to focus on John Price. Unfortunately, John is only somewhat sympathetic as a character. He pines for Emily, but has a relationship Nicky, and casually cheats on her. He's a journalist for the local English lanugauage daily, but plants stories to help his friends win business deals for which he gets a kickback.

    Nor is there a particular plot that gets followed through the novel, though most of the action revolves around a privitization deal and John's pining for Emily.

    So what we end up with is a description of a year or so of life in Budapest during the early 1990s from the point of view of 5 American/Canadian somewhat-friends. The time and place are interesting, and the book does an excellent job conveying what it was like to be there at that special time in history by people who frequently remarked at how special a time in history it was. The prose is decent, but not particularly artful and frequently long-winded. I found myself frequently skimming the text, especially as I grew closer to the end.

    Phillips is clearly talented, but inexperienced. It is obvious that the story was made up as he went along, with the only goal of describing what it was like to be at that time and place. It could have used another draft to tighten up the plot, and editing to cut it down by 25%.

    So here's my recommendation - if you want to experience life in Budapest in 1990, and don't mind feeling like an outsider and missing all the insider jokes and ironies, this is a very good introduction. Much better than reading a travel guide. As a novel, it's not bad, but not great, either....more info
  • Criminy!!! One-star reviews?
    Musta fallen into the hands of a particulary large and dimwitted book club, or else all the author's vanquished Jeopardy foes are out to nail him.

    The book is really worth at least 3 1/2 stars, specially fer being a daybiew.

    It's clever and quite accurate in its portrayal of young Americanos on the loose in the former Soviet Bloc c. 1991. Some of the reviewers say they can't understand why the characters act so dad-gum nasty. It's all there in black n white, folks-cheap hooch, sex, an unhinged capitalist mindset, etc., etc.

    The book falls down a bit as it narrows its focus to a business deal/scam involving a young Hungarian/'Merican biz wiz trying to take over/sell off an august Budapest publishing house. This subplot took over the book and tended to drag the shebang down for long stretches that reminded of a Michener historical novel.

    I would have preferred a more comic, more ambiguous close to the book. Still, better than most of the recent crop of E. Euro fiction. And if you were there or some place like it, definitely worth it....more info

  • Are you kidding me?
    Since I enjoy reading just about any genre, I was surprised how much I hated this book. It did not seem to have a clear beginning nor an ending. It was confusing all the way through...jumping between characters and time spans sporadically, even dumping a character with never a clear explanation. Nothing in this book is clear. I think the author enjoys hearing himself talk in as many out of circulation words as possible, which only muddled up the flow or lack thereof in his writing. He should stick to game shows or manuals or something. Novels...no. Who was his editor????? Wow....more info

 

 
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