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Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague (Crown Journeys) Hardcover – November 16, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goldberg, author of the acclaimed 2001 novel Bee Season, depicts a culturally and historically complex Prague in this newest entry in the Crown Journeys series (after Kinky Friedman’s The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic). In describing her experiences visiting such traditional tourist destinations as Kafka’s grave and lesser-known attractions like the display cabinets in the Strahov Monastery, Goldberg brings to life Prague’s past; upon entering the reading room at the Czech National Library, she imagines how the room must have looked centuries ago, the "rectangular wooden tables lined with hungry Jesuits, the air echoing with sounds of priestly mastication." Goldberg also recounts her interactions with the Czechs, comparing the economic and cultural development of the city to the values and dispositions of its inhabitants. Her encounter with two police officers who demand that she pay a fine for walking along a passageway prohibited to pedestrians demonstrates the lamentable reality that "the Westernization of Prague’s commercial sector does not extend to its cops," the majority of whom "are interested in using their position in whatever way they can for personal or material gain." Goldberg’s musings on all aspects of the Prague experience, from the dearth of public bathroom facilities at the Lunapark amusement area to the resonant sounds of the city ("the rubber burble of car tires against cobblestone, the screech of tram wheels grinding against the rails, the clomp of a babushka’s heavy shoes against the sidewalk, and the murmur of manifold conversations"), make this a rich and vivid reflection on a beautiful, multifaceted city.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This latest volume in the Crown Journeys series of travelogues explores a currently popular destination for American travelers: the elegant Czech capital. Westernization now floods Prague in the wake of the remarkably easy toppling of the Communist regime, so Goldberg, author of the best-selling novel Bee Season (2000), encounters new American restaurants that have cropped up, but more resonantly and impressively for the tourist, the lovely and abundant evidence of Prague's rich architectural past is what she is most drawn to. As the author so personally and poignantly indicates, the basis of Prague's great attraction is that it is an "old and retentive" city; it is an escapee from the physical destructions of central Europe's wars (most notably World War II); and it is "time's magpie, hoarding beautiful, eclectic bits from each successive era" of its 10 centuries of dramatic history. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Crown Journeys
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (November 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400046041
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400046041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,377,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is not meant as a travel guide like "Prague Walks" or a collection of essays about the city like Paul Wilson's slim anthology. Like John Banville's recent "Prague Pictures," it offers one author's own perspective. If you have not been to Prague, the cityscape conjured up here will be elusively imagined as you read Goldberg's energetic digressions. Having lived there a decade ago, when the formerly cheap cost-of-living lured Westerners, she brings no autobiographical recollections but a sense of the savvier long-term resident. She avoids many of the familiar tourist sites such as the Jewish quarter, Hradcany and the Castle, and the Charles Bridge. She favors, as this series stresses, the off-beat locales.

It's a quick verbal repast, edible in one or two sittings. Like dumplings and alcohol (as she notes after three decades of this diet the sudden, irreversible transition from ruddy youth to slumped middle-agers among its citizens), it fills you up for the moment but leaves you wanting more nutritious content soon after. She notices a lot more graffiti than I did, but offers insights about the pedestals and skateboarders that remain after the statues topple. (I'm surprised she did not visit the park where the statues loll on display for tourists.) Goldberg marvels too much at the system whereby the Metro's riders go on the honor system amidst plainclothes fare-checkers--maybe as a Brooklynite she finds this unbelievable? She helpfully lets you know that both the Strahov and Clementinum libraries rope off or keep at a distance from casual visitors much of what beckons enticingly from brochures. The chapter on the bell-ringing at noon sags into archness, however, and that on the nondescript suburb of New Karlin post-flood also adds little to the volume.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Some readers might misunderstand the purpose of the Crown Journeys series. It isn’t travel literature like Fodor’s or Rick Steve’s Europe. Readers aren’t supposed to be armchair tourists. Instead, authors take them on the road less traveled so that they can learn about places more from long-term resident viewpoints. And this is just what “Time’s Magpie” is like. Prague felt real to me in a way that it wouldn’t have been if it were written like popular travel literature. That doesn’t mean I want to visit the place. I don’t. I had no idea that post-communist Europe was so economically depressed. So I felt sad for the National Library and wanted someone to help it. I still enjoyed the history lessons. There’s also nothing wrong with Goldberg discussing a catastrophic flood one year later. If I visited Prague, it’s all that I’d talk and write about.

My main problem with this book is Goldberg’s rather wordy style. For example, “the Museum of Communism shares the first floor of an elegant nineteenth-century building, which it shares with a casino. A sign on the building’s stairwell….” I’d use ellipsis to remove unnecessary words: “the Museum of Communism occupies the first floor of an elegant nineteenth-century building, which it shares with a casino. A sign on the stairwell….” Or “the Museum of Communism shares with a casino the first floor of an elegant nineteenth-century building. A sign on the stairwell….” Much of the book is like this. I haven’t read Goldberg's other books, so I don’t know her style. But maybe she should stick with narrative fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
All in all, a nervous reverie for those who have visited or have no intention of visiting the city. But not for those who have yet to travel there. Best to check out standard guides, talk to veteran itinerants, and read "Prague Walks" and Ivan Klima's essays collected as "The Spirit of Prague." Goldberg, like her book-jacket picture reveals as its contents affirm, remains too showy an interpreter--she dresses in black, but the loudly-striped leggings give her away instead of camouflaging her presence
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Format: Hardcover
The premise of this "A Walk in..." series is that someone very familiar with the city "walks" a visitor through a city they know well... sort of an insider's view. ... or so I thought.

I had already read Kinky Friedman's, "The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic : A "Walk" in Austin", which tells about offbeat places, a little history here and there, Willie Nelson's ranch, off-the-tourist-map restaurants, and other interesting commentary about Austin delivered as only he could relate it. So I eagerly anticipated reading a similar treatment of Prague-- a city I fell in love during a brief visit a few years ago.

I should say at the outset that there is only one Kinkster, so I wasn't expecting anything like his book-- just an "insider's" view of this glorious old city.

I don't even know why this author was selected to write the book. She is hardly an insider, having lived there a number of years back as an American ex-pat. The book describes her return visit to see how the city had changed over the last decade.

Prague is one of the best-preserved cities in central-eastern Europe, having been spared the bombing of WWII. It is a timeless city. Oddly, the author chooses to focus on effects of the flood that hit the city in August, 2002, trivial protests against the war in Iraq, and an extended account of her encounter with the 'traffic police'. It is almost literally a minute-by-minute account of her walk through the city. This is material more suited to a daily blog than an insider's book about a timeless city.

I could add that I do not care for her overly dramatic writing style, but that is secondary the utter lack of meaningful content in the work. I'm just glad that the book came from a library, so I only wasted time not money on this bit of nothingness.
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