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Prague: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Arthur Phillips
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

BONUS: This edition contains excerpts from Arthur Phillips's The Tragedy of Arthur, The Song Is You, The Egyptologist, and Angelica.

A first novel of startling scope and ambition, Prague depicts an intentionally lost Lost Generation as it follows five American expats who come to Budapest in the early 1990s to seek their fortune—financial, romantic, and spiritual—in an exotic city newly opened to the West. They harbor the vague suspicion that their counterparts in Prague, where the atmospheric decay of post–Cold War Europe is even more cinematically perfect, have it better. Still, they hope to find adventure, inspiration, a gold rush, or history in the making. What they actually find is a deceptively beautiful place that they often fail to understand. What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?

Journalist John Price finds these questions impossible to answer yet impossible to avoid, though he tries to forget them in the din of Budapest’ s nightclubs, in a romance with a secretive young diplomat, at the table of an elderly cocktail pianist, and in the moody company of a young man obsessed with nostalgia. Arriving in Budapest one spring day to pursue his elusive brother, John finds himself pursuing something else entirely, something he can’t quite put a name to, something that will draw him into stories much larger than himself.

With humor, intelligence, masterly prose, and profound affection for both Budapest and his own characters, Arthur Phillips not only captures his contemporaries but also brilliantly renders the Hungary of past and present: the generations of failed revolutionaries and lyric poets, opportunists and profiteers, heroes and storytellers.

Editorial Reviews Review

In Prague, Arthur Phillips's sparkling, Kundera-flavored debut, five young Americans converge in Budapest in the early 1990s. Most are there by chance, like businessman Charles Gabor, whose parents were Hungarian. But one of them, John Price, has the more novelistic motivation of lost love. He is following his older brother, Scott, intent on achieving an intimacy that Scott, a language teacher and health enthusiast, is just as intently trying to escape. The romantic hero of this unsentimental novel, John Price lives like an expatriate of the 1920s. He longs for experience (and more or less stumbles into a writing job for an English language paper), but even more so for the great, obliterating love that takes the form of the perky assistant Emily Oliver. Mark Payton, a scholar of nostalgia whose insights are touched with mysticism, seems often to speak for the author, even in his barely repressed desire for John Price. For who would not love the good and unaffected, in the confusion, opportunism, and irony that characterize fin-de-siècle Europe? Phillips's five seekers are like mirrors that reflect Budapest at different angles, and that imperfectly--but wonderfully--point toward the unattainable city: the glittering, distant Prague. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Everything about this dazzling first novel is utterly original, including the title: it's about a group of young American (and one Canadian) expatriates living in Budapest in 1990, just after the Communist empire has collapsed, and the point of "Prague" is that it's the place everyone would rather be, except they have all somehow settled for Budapest as second best to their idealized Central European city.The author's way of bringing his five central characters onstage is also devilishly clever. They are playing a game invented by Charles Gabor, the only one with a Hungarian background called Sincerity, in which scores are made by telling convincing lies and by seeing through the lies of others. This serves at once to introduce these characters and allows the author to play with their sense of themselves. There is sophisticated, devious Charles, working for a New York investment company seeking newly privatized Hungarian businesses to invest in; Mark, a Canadian intellectual obsessed with the elements of nostalgia (and finding Budapest a rich repository); John, who writes a mordant column on the clashes of the old world and the new for the English-language BudapesToday; John's older brother, Scott, who despises him; and Emily, an apparent innocent from Nebraska who works at the U.S. Embassy. At the heart of the story is Charles's attempt to take over a venerable Hungarian publishing company, whose history is brilliantly sketched and whose aged scion, Imre Horvath, is a quintessential Central European survivor. John nurses a hopeless passion for Emily, becomes involved with a bald-headed collage artist and listens, enchanted, to the tales of an elderly pianist in the group's favorite jazz club. Mark disappears, Scott decamps and the publishing caper ends in disillusionment.But what happens in this novel is not nearly so important as Phillips's wonderful grasp Budapest's look, style and ethos, and his sometimes sympathetic, often scathing view of the Western interlopers. His writing is swift, often poetic, unerringly exact with voices and subtle details of time, place and weather. This novel is so complete a distillation of its theme and characters that it leaves a reader wondering how on earth Phillips can follow it up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 778 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375507876
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (September 17, 2002)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1K0C
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,207 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
120 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...or, The Mysteries of Budapest June 18, 2002
I hadn't heard of Arthur Phillips before I began reading Prague, but by page 6, I felt I had read 50 other books by him. Alienated youth, joined by a sense of ennui in a habitat not their own...sound familiar? Then, by page 20 I realized that this was, indeed, something remarkably fresh. And incredibly well written.
Don't open this story looking for a party in Prague itself, for the city merely plays Emerald City to Budapest's Oz. The 5 main characters of Phillips books are forever looking toward Prague while chasing money, love, and in one interesting case family through Budapest in the early 1990's. There isn't a whole lot at first to like about Emily, Scott, his brother John, Mark and Charles - but as their adventures roll along the pages, it is humor that makes these characters endearing.
Phillips use of the English language is awe-inspiring. It's clear that he recognizes the kudos showered upon Michael Chabon for taking time to perfect language and idioms in his storytelling. I kept thinking of Chabon's "The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh" while reading this book, and if you are a fan, you will greatly enjoy Phillip's storytelling skills.
I've read this type story so many times over the years (Bright Lights, Big City, Less Than Zero, The Secret History are less worthy members of this literary club). When I finished Prague, I felt like I truly cared about not only the outcome, but the characters themselves. That's difficult to pull off in a novel about self-absorbed, capital-hungry Gen X'ers, but Phillips does a great job in achieving this.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit too clever? September 14, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly praised Prague as one of the most dazzling debuts of the year. When I started Prague, I was floored by Phillip's exquisite writing and by the evocative atmosphere of Budapest (no, not Prague) he so expertly weaves into his book.
Gradually however, the novel's ugly characters take up so much real estate that it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore them. Mark, Charles, Emily, and John are a bunch of American expatriates who have descended on Hungary in the early `90's just after the wall was torn down. All four are young and are trying vaguely to figure out the meaning of life in the Eastern bloc city. The characters are horribly self-absorbed and mean. While many have explained their self-absorption as a byproduct of their being a member of Generation X, I submit that it is probably also a product of their expat status. For all their outwardly aggressive behavior, Budapest is a foreign city to these people evidenced in the comfort they find from a person just come from America, "they crowded around him eager for news from home".
After I finished "Prague", I was very impressed by how well Phillips has portrayed his characters. So realistically in fact, that I was shaken by the worry that such obnoxious characters might indeed exist in real life. Charles hungrily swallows up an aging Hungarian native's (Imre Horvath) press and chalks it up to the ups and downs of capitalism. When John Price actually tries to bring genuine emotion to the front, he quickly dismisses it by admitting "he was ashamed to feel his throat tighten. He rubbed his eyes until the tickling sensation passed. His absurdity seemed to have no limits anymore".
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I read last year September 20, 2004
Okay, I admit it...I'm mainly writing this review to drag the stars on Prague up. Simply put, it's a stunner...a tour de force that seems to capture a place and time (1990s Eastern Europe) as well as the sort of young Americans who gathered there. It was the best thing I read last year, and I've recommended it to everyone I know.

It seems ridiculous to me that many of the reviewers demand that the characters all be likeable. These characters are complex, and yes, some of them aren't that likeable. But this is an elegiac, bittersweet look at twenthysomething expats in a town going through a seismic change. The characters are going through big changes, too, and that isn't always when folks are at their student-council president best. But who wants to read about people like that anyway? (And don't get me started on folks who are bothered that this is about the realities of Budapest and dreams of Prague.)

Yep, some of these characters trample the locals and the system. Others, like the F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish John Price, find inspiration and some cause for hope. So these aren't all folks you want to pal around with? Go read a romance novel or something. I'm not clear that I was likeable in my 20s, so demanding that of characters seems a little feeble.

But why did I love this book? The way Phillips makes it about the city and about the experience, and not merely a character study. I was sitting reading this looking at gorgeous Montana lake, and his evocative passages about cafes and castles made me want to leave Glacier National Park and hop a flight to Budapest. I'm sorry, but I think that's damn fine writing. One and two-star, he's not.
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54 of 66 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars About as exciting as reading the phone book March 28, 2003
With the critics whipping themselves into ecstatic frenzies of frothy praise over this book, I figured "what the "heck" , it can't be all bad."
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Apparently, being a postmodern, post-ironic, post-gen X'er isn't enough for Mr. Phillips. He has to show us all that he is utterly post-having-anything-to-say. Phillips radiates the kind of smug satisfaction that makes me mourn the living tree that this book once was.
And he goes on to let the reader know, through the thinnest-of-veiled self-portraits, that he is aware of this smugness, that he mocks it, that he is both bigger and lesser than this smugness, that he tears down its pretension and then goes on to tear down the pretension of pretending he can tear down its pretension, in an endless spiral that goes on until I want to gouge my eyes out rather than read another word this smug "person" has written. If tripe like this is the new cutting edge of American Literature, we are all in deep, deep, doo-doo.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Bright Lights, Big City meets Murakami in Budapest
I bought this book as a "pre-read" for an upcoming trip to Budapest. In that regard it has served its purpose giving me a general feel for the city and some of its history... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Gaucho36
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
good read
Published 4 months ago by O's Ma
1.0 out of 5 stars don't bother
Wordy and with uninteresting characters, I couldn't finish it. Disappointing, since I loved "The Egyptologist". Read more
Published 4 months ago by Nancy S. Cunningham
4.0 out of 5 stars Actually it's Budapest...
Very evocative and a great history lesson for Communist Budapest. Don't read it thinking you'll learn about Prague. It's symbolic!!
Published 11 months ago by Karen Vereb
1.0 out of 5 stars Pure pretense
If writers write what they know, this man lives a shallow existence. But he writes pretty sentences which is what initially drew me in - that and the praise of critics. Read more
Published 14 months ago by BearsDancing
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Enjoyable Novel
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. I had never come across this author before, so I didn't know quite what to expect as far as writing style, etc. Read more
Published 16 months ago by P. Mitchell
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to follow
I am surprised this book is rated as a national best seller. I found it difficult to follow, however I never had the time to sit down and read a good section of it so I forgot a... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Chapwoman
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and authentic view of expat life
What caught my attention first was the writing more than the characters. Phillips knows how to describe a scene beautifully through a variety of eyes and his observations always... Read more
Published on March 15, 2013 by Auburn
1.0 out of 5 stars Gave up after 80 pages
It doesn't happen often but I couldn't finish this book. In fact I couldn't get to page 81. This book actually put me to sleep quicker then reading a textbook.
Published on August 23, 2012 by uncleshooter
3.0 out of 5 stars dated
If I hadn't read The Egyptologist (which I thoroughly enjoyed) first, I wouldn't have gotten very far into this novel. Read more
Published on August 17, 2012 by close reader
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More About the Author

Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion.

His first novel, Prague, was named a New York Times Notable Book, and receivedThe Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for best first novel. His second novel, The Egyptologist, was an international bestseller, and was on more than a dozen "Best of 2004" lists. Angelica, his third novel, made The Washington Post best fiction of 2007 and led that paper to call him "One of the best writers in America." The Song Is You was a New York Times Notable Book, on the Post's best of 2009 list, and inspired Kirkus to write, "Phillips still looks like the best American novelist to have emerged in the present decade."

His work has been published in twenty-seven languages, and is the source of three films currently in development.

His fifth book, The Tragedy of Arthur, was named one of the best books of 2011 by
The New York Times
The New Yorker
The Wall Street Journal
The Chicago Tribune
Kirkus Reviews
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The San Francisco Chronicle
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The American Library Association
Library Journal
Paste Magazine
The Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada)
The Toronto Star (Canada)
The New Statesman (U.K.)
Critical Mob
Hudson Booksellers
Barnes and Noble

He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

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