Prague is a magical, mysterious city that has inspired many writers. From local legends like Kafka to international authors, Prague continues to feature in many novels. No matter if you’re reading a thriller, historical fiction or magical realism, the city is a favorite setting for many stories. We take a look at 8 books with Prague at their heart.
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
The novel begins in Italy and France, where unsympathetic character Simone Simonini gets caught up in a social reform plot that involves French novelist Alexandre Dumas, Napoleon III and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, among many other historical figures. The book is a fascinating tale about 19th century anti-Semitic characters and the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion manuscript – a fake (but historically real) document that was supposed to show the secret Jewish plot for world domination. As the characters travel and unravel the complex theories behind everything, Prague and its famous Jewish cemetery become a symbol of all the lies that changed the course of history.
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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Written by famous Czech writer Milan Kundera, the novel is an intimate look into the lives of four people and a dog during a period of Czechoslovak history known as “Prague spring.” The period, which stretches between January and August of 1968, marks the birth of an important political liberalization era in the country, following many years of domination by the Soviet Union. The novel is an intense look into the life of a city transformed by a short-lived freedom (and how that freedom intersects with personal freedom) and how four people are impacted by it.
The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
This 1914 novel tells the story of a jeweler living in the ghetto of Prague. While not real, the Golem (a mythical Jewish creature created of mud) is important in the book not because of what he does but because of what he represents: the spirit of a community suffering through the centuries. Because the main character is suffering from mental instability, the entire story reads like a convoluted dream, where Pernath’s adventures mix with things around them in a sometimes illogical sequence – all the while showing readers the reality of living in Prague in the early 20th century.
A Perfect Spy by John le Carre
It’s not until British intelligence officer Magnus Pym disappears that it becomes obvious that he used to be a spy for the Czechoslovakian secret service. As other agents search for him, Prague becomes a major player in the plot, with Pym contacting old friends, exploring hidden corners of Prague and being chased by the bad guys around the cobblestone streets of the city.
Prague by Arthur Phillips
Prague follows the story of a group of American expats living in Europe at the end of the Cold War. Despite the title, the story starts in Budapest, where the characters dream about moving to Prague to explore the city “with more freedom, more parties and more life” than their current one in Hungary. The city of Prague represents everything the characters want but it’s just out of reach. The book contains lots of beautiful descriptions of the city, its more important corners and the magic that makes Prague so unique.
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Written and published in Germany, Austerlitz follows the story of a Czechoslovakian man who was once rescued as part of the kindertransport and sent to England to ensure his safety. The kindertransport was a real-life rescue effort organized by England to take almost 10,000 Jewish children out of countries targeted by Nazis. In the book, Jacques Austerlitz is tracking his origins in an emotional journey that takes him to Prague to meet people who knew his birth parents. While Jacques also travels to other countries in the search for his identity, it’s his time discovering the streets of Prague that starts it all.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Kafka set all his books in Prague, and The Trial is no different. A lot of Kafka’s stories, however, happen indoors or ignore the environment surrounding the characters, so it’s sometimes easy to forget the city in the background. The Trial, however, is different, as Kafka plays with issues of authority, a trial, and the people involved in it. While the character (or the reader) never know what the charge is that brings him to trial, Kafka weaves a magical tale that takes everybody through the city in an intriguing story that somehow echoes the mystery that is Prague itself.
Time’s Magpie: A Walk in Prague by Myla Goldberg
You can’t get a better glimpse of Prague past and present than what author Myla Goldberg shows you in this book. With detailed descriptions of everything from the Strahov Monastery to the Czech National Library to the winding cobblestone streets, Time’s Magpie is the perfect travelogue for those who want to learn more about Prague. Full of lyrical prose and glimpses into Prague’s mystical past, this is a book that will show you what the real Prague is like.
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