I’ve finally finished Arthur Phillips’ excellent novel about expatriates in Budapest, the oddly-titled Prague (2002), and recommend it to everyone who loves Budapest, or just loves great prose and a well-told story. Prague follows five young expatriates who move to Budapest in 1990 for various reasons and discover themselves through their relationships with each other and with a newly-democratized Hungary. It sounds like a well-trod literary path, but Phillips gives it a fresh spin with crisp, insightful writing.
Phillips himself lived in Budapest for a few years in the early ’90s, and his love for the city shows. In fact, I think that he romanticizes the capital so much that he makes it out to be more funky and bohemian than it really deserves, while mostly ignoring the difficult aspects of living in an immediate post-Communist society. But since one of the book’s major themes appears to be nostalgia and how we remember the past (the obsession of one character in particular) perhaps this positive glow of Hungary circa 1990 was slyly intentional on Phillips’ part.
I found the stories and characters inhabiting this book familiar to me as an 1990s expatriate in Budapest myself, although I arrived to the city a few years after Phillips did. And more than just a story about expatriates, the book’s standout section describes the past 150 years of Hungarian history through a clever and fascinating tale of one family over several generations. I also found his observations about Hungarians and the “national character” to be pretty close to the mark (and so did Györgyi, surprisingly).
Well, if you’ve read Prague, please leave us your thoughts here. Our next book review will be another Hungarian-related novel, but this time by a Brazilian! To be continued…