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A City on Fire

Author: John Banville
One in Bloomsbury - The Writer and the City series

Prague is the magic capital of Europe. Since the days of Emperor Rudolf II, “devotee of the stars and cultivator of the spagyric art”, who in the late 1500s summoned alchemists and magicians from all over the world to his castle on Hradèany hill, Prague has been a place of mystery and intrigue. Wars, revolutions, floods, the imposition of Soviet communism, and even the depredations of the tourist boom after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 could not destroy the unique atmosphere of this beautiful, proud, and melancholy city on the Vltava. Banville traces Prague’s often tragic history and portrays the people who made it: the emperors and princes, geniuses and charlatans, heroes and scoundrels. He also paints a portrait of the Prague of today, reveling in its newfound freedoms, eager to join the European Community and at the same time suspicious of what many Praguers see as yet another totalitarian takeover. He writes of his first visit to the city, in the depths of the Cold War, and of subsequent trips there, of the people he met, the friends he made, the places he came to know.

From Booklist
Here is the latest installment in Bloomsbury's fascinating Writer in the City series, which matches well-known writers with cities with which they are intimately familiar. Banville has not written a guidebook but rather, in his own words, "a handful of recollections, variations on a theme"--snapshots, if you like, of the city's past and present. The book begins with the author's first visit to Prague, during the cold war, but as we go deeper into the book, we also go deeper into the city's history. Banville flicks so effortlessly between past and present that Prague soon appears as a collage, effectively lifting the city's rich and visible past out of time and bringing it to life once again, as the author visits the birthplace of Franz Kafka or steps inside a cathedral whose construction was begun in 1344. While most travel memoirs clearly distinguish between the way a place is today and the way it used to be, Banville's perspective is somewhat different. This, he says, is Prague, past and present, the way it has always been. David Pitt
© American Library Association.
$16.95 (hardcover)
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