Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Preparing for Prague

One of the things I like to do before a trip is read about the place, and I don't mean just guidebooks. Even novels can give you a sense of the place. The first one I read, The Phoenix of Prague, by Douglas Skeggs, was a spy thriller. Czech-born British agent Jan Capek returns to Prague in 1991, just after the fall of Communism, to track down some paintings. Very taut, very believable, with an ending I didn't see coming. Some good writing, like this: "She gave a grunt ...'I know they're not Communists,' she said. 'You know they're not Communists, but has anyone tried telling those bastards that they're not?"

If Phoenix was dark and a little bitter, on the other hand there's the saccharine The Twelve Little Cakes, by Dominika Dery, a memoir of her childhood in a village outside Prague, with parents who were political dissidents. It's hard to believe she remembers entire conversations from when she was 3-years-old, but we'll give her some latitude as a memoirist. That wasn't what bothered me about this memoir. The book was a bit too long, and dwelled too much on childhood memories that, frankly, were not that interesting. Still, it did have provide glimpses of life under Communism, and how her family's spirit and love compensated for the material things they didn't have.