Lead Review (The Book of Prague: A City in Short Fiction)

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Review Author: Tina Hartas



This is part of series, with new city titles regularly added to the collection. The publisher brings together short stories written by authors who are native to the country in question, and then beautifully arranges translations by a selection of skilled translators. At the end of each book there is a short bio of each author and a little about the individuals who bring the stories to life in the English language. The series is published by Comma Press, a not-for-profit publisher and development agency specialising in short fiction from the UK and beyond.

There are already several titles dotted around England, including Newcastle and Liverpool, and further afield there are set in Cairo, Beijing and particularly poignant at the moment, given the current situation, in Gaza.

The stories in The Book of Prague offer a peek into the lives and the city both past and present, through the eyes of authors who are familiar with their city, and some stories provide the wider context of what we see today. In My Libeň (an area that has been part of Prague for more than a century) we are taken on a lyrical, whistle stop tour of the quarter as it was in the 1950s:

Sometimes, I would walk to the Vysočany railway station and from there, delight in the poetry of the train tracks and the factories towering in the background”.

In other stories there are characters who work at the abattoir, others who are recently released from prison. It is an interesting notion to feature a newly released convict because he has missed how the city has evolved during his incarceration and now he can describe what he sees through his own fresh view. One character ponders how the city might have fared had it really stood up to Nazi might.

The Introduction is a valuable opener, offering insight into the political evolution of the country – I hadn’t realised, forThe Book of PRAGUE: A City in Short Fiction example, that when, in the 1930s the country was preparing for war against Germany, hostilities were averted because Great Britain, France and Italy banded together and pressured the country into ceding some of its territory to Germany. This turned out to be a double edged sword because Prague wasn’t attacked and destroyed and therefore is preserved “in aspic” in many respects for a modern visitor. And then, post WW2, of course Communism took over and that added a considerable legacy to the city, still evident in many parts today, both in attitude, learning and the mix of cultural architecture. Just from the stories the reader can deduce that the city has been through phenomenal flux.

The series is rewarding if you want something just a bit different. Each book provides an introduction to authors from the country, who are perhaps neither mainstream nor currently available in English translation. A book of stories like  this is consummate reflection and observation by those who know and understand the city… literary tourism at its best.

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