What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?" Budapest: City of Grit John Price left California for Budapest in search of adventure, but also to reconnect to his older brother Scott. By being around John again all the insecurities of his past come back to nag at the veneer of his new identity. I wish Id been able to flee to a vibrant European city like Budapest but I had to settle for Phoenix. As John settles into the city and starts to make a name for himself as a journalist working for BudapesToday, he begins to put together a life of his own. This picture becomes a talisman of the apartment to the point that she almost seems like a part of Johns own past. She has been forced to leave Budapest too many times but always comes back when sanity has returned. As I skimmed some other reviews of this book, it was interesting to see the reactions to these twenty something characters who are all very intelligent, who have just read enough, seen enough, to formulate what they feel are informed opinions, but of course they are just on the beginning edges of actually knowing what they are talking about. The people who gave this book one star because they loathed the characters I believe missed some of the point of the book because Arthur Phillips is very hard on these people. The one star reviews seemed intent on punishing a writer for creating characters theyve met versions of in real life and didnt like. Phillips also displays a depth of understanding of the human condition that had me rereading and thinking about passages such as this: John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that the happy people in this world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two. She certainly wouldnt like the direction her character takes, a direction she would have thought was impossible. The books he published saved the cultural history not only of his city, but also of his country. For some, the book acted almost as an opiate: The pleasure of leisurely or impatiently traveling from page to page and seeing lovely Budapest unbombed, undamaged, in black and white, was almost pornographic in its unattainable, voluptuous gorgeousness. The war was over so quickly that it almost felt like a movie with too abrupt an ending. You may not like the characters, but I will say that no one remains twenty forever, and most pseudo intellectuals eventually discover how much more there is to know than what they can ever know.
A Tale of Two Cities Despite the title, the novel Prague is set exclusively in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. The Irony of Place Prague is set exclusively in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. This reflects an underlying irony that, at the time the novel is set, many of the characters believed they should really have been in Prague, because that is where all of the action was. Some seek business opportunities, some just want to be there to experience the aftermath of a cultural event as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall, some are literally in transit on their way to Prague. Budapest is a new frontier town, and people, Americans, have come here to trade, to buy, to sell, to profit, only perhaps to put down roots, to build, to remain part of the future. Of course, they will leave behind them the city and people of Budapest , who will still have bridges to re-build, a nation to shape, business to be done and relationships and families to form. He uses a nice plot device of a game called Sincerity to introduce us to: Charles Gabor, an American of Hungarian origin, an up and coming venture capitalist here to buy State-owned businesses that are being privatised; Mark Payton, a gay Canadian who has just finished a thesis on the history of nostalgia; Emily Oliver, a junior Nebraskan embassy employee who describes her job as neat; Scott Price, from Los Angeles, someone who will only return to college when they institute a masters degree in living for the moment, but in the meantime survives on a diet of self-help books, brief and impassioned love affairs with Eastern philosophies, and a cyclical practice of wading in and out of various regimes of psychotherapy, accredited and otherwise. Even before Horvath has appeared in the contemporary action, Phillips uses a 62 page section of the novel to detail the history of the Horvath Kiado, the publishing house that was established in the nineteenth century and managed by the Horvath family uninterrupted until the arrival of communism. In the following chapter, we see how Charles Gabor treats Imre with little respect in their business dealings. In the earlier chapter, we learn that Imre deserves respect, if only because of the history of generosity, community-mindedness, decency and sophistication that he personifies. But this is the point of the novel: no matter what you think of Imre personally, he personifies an old Europe. Phillips ensemble of New World Americans are like Henry James characters climbing all over the face of the Old World and its cultural and business traditions. However, it is so much a part of the recipe of the novels success that I would have preferred the content of the chapter to be revealed to us through dialogue or description interspersed within the action. Nadja The other Hungarian is a faded female jazz singer, possibly of a similar vintage to Imre, who sings and plays piano at the Blue Jazz club, somewhere you can drink, talk and listen to music beneath posters of Mingus, Monk and Parker, a previous generation of jazz expatriates. She recounts tales of Weimar Berlin, ironically a time before the Second World War that was equally attractive to expatriates, if a little more ominous than 90s Budapest (although that might just mean that we couldnt see the omens for Hungary in the 90s). Emily thinks shes a liar, John wants to believe her, because ultimately she, like him, is a story teller, a little bit of a magician. Success is Nothing Without a Succession Plan The real action, such as it is, concerns the business deal between Charles and Imre. Charles puts together a joint venture with Imre to acquire the publishing house back from the State, the beginning of the restoration of his family heritage. In the absence of any family that Imre can locate, Charles is his new family, his succession plan, his guarantee of perpetuating the role of his enterprise as the conscience and memory of Hungary. Just as this deal appears to be coming to fruition, John decides that he has had enough of Budapest and catches a train to Prague. You get the sense that Arthur Phillips genuinely knows the world he describes in the novel, as diverse as it seems. Of Experience, Wisdom and Memories Over the course of the novel, some of Phillips' characters do nasty things to each other, and he has been criticized for being too cold in his treatment of them. The Hungarians, Imre and Nadja, have a whole lifetime of experience and wisdom and memories. Apart from John, they reveal no respect for the wisdom and memories of the Hungarians. Varieties of Nostalgia You also get the impression that the expatriates will look back on their years in Budapest with a great sense of nostalgia, something similar to the nostalgia of Imre and Nadja.
I'm with the reviewer who wants a medal for finishing this book. This is a boring book, peopled by worthless two-dimensional (and that's being generous) characters, save one, who gets precious little ink. There are these extremely dry attempts at circuitous, self-consciously poetic humor (which for the most part fail) at the same time as there are these gee-whiz takes on things that I think are supposed to be suprising that most of us who hadn't fallen asleep figured out 100 pages ago. This struck me as ridiculously funny, but not in the context of the story an a misguided character, but because I think the author really meant it. In the middle of my struggle with this book, I happened to hear the author reading some story about a guy's tryst with an Eastern European spy/prostitute on "This American Life." I didn't find his voice any more compelling when I could actually hear it.
I was lured into reading it by the magnitude of praise - it won numerous awards and the reviews were positive, comparing the author to such writers as Kundera and Hemingway, even F. The novel is supposed to deal with a group of expatriates who came to Budapest to discover themselves. Prague is populated by a bunch of posers, who all read surprisingly alike therefore burdening thereader ith heavy feeling of dealing with thinly veiled self-portraits of the author, who's a Harvard graduate and a 5 times Jeopardy! Prague manages to defy two most important rules of writing at the same time - show, don't tell, and if nothing happens after page 100 or 150 why should the reader go on? Prague offers no new valuable insights and reads more like a writing exercise than a novel; it's meandering and unfocused.
You are boring and whiny and mistakenly think groinal longings are a substitute for deep introspection. I can think of no other reason why Phillips would find it necessary to focus on you. Because this is fiction, somehow you're supposed to be the narrative thread, the 'innocent abroad', but you are truly just boring.
Indeed, John thought that he could see that Charles liked the idea of his competitors/friends noticing the symbolism but then being smart enough to reject it as not only a mere symbol but also an inaccurate one, a silent trick, since he surely did not believe that turning his face to the sun demonstrated any actual candor. And, John thought further, perhaps this was a small compliment as well, since Charles trusted that you were clever enough not to take the gesture at face value but to know that the act of intentionally symbolically revealing himself was meant to show that he was not revealing himself. I love the complexity - how John is clearly intelligent but possibly overthinking, how Charles is someone who is completely capable of imbuing every gesture with multiple layers of meaning, how Arthur Phillips both loves and mocks his characters, the unspoken personal insecurities that lead to reading so much into possibly innocent movements... Plot-wise, this book is an audacious debut novel about five young people who have crossed the Atlantic (four from the States and one, with frequent humorously bashful reminders, from Canada) to start new lives in Budapest, where they work unfulfilling jobs and dislike each other and lounge around their favorite cafe or bar to enjoy a mutual sense of being better than everyone else - while wishing they were in Prague, where real life must be happening.
Writers like Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jay McInerney composed incredibly self-conscious, pretentious novels and imagined themselves the voice of a generation. The novel is peopled with characters that, one imagines, are very much like Mr. Phillips: immature, slick, and so cooly ironic that even they don't know if they're full of shit or not.
The blurb on the cover of my copy of this book, a quote from the NY Times, hovering impressively above the title, says, "Ingenious.. The thing is, I know that by saying this, I am inviting just the raised eyebrows that I want to smack to dismiss me as just the sort of idiotic knob who is too simplistic to see the subtle pathos that heaves beneath their iron(y) facade.
I liked it, but I have to admit that had I not been delayed in the airport in Nice, I never would have gotten as far as I did. Maybe I liked the IDEA of reading it more than the read itself.