Prague

Arthur Phillips

Phillips wears a little Kundera on his sleeve, perhaps specifically Life is Elsewhere. Though I haven’t read it myself, the title could easily be transposed to this story of a band of young North American expats who end up in Budapest for a variety of reasons, one of them hoping his Hungarian roots will bring him success in post-Communist Hungary and at least one other thinking for sure the real excitement is in Prague. Partway through there’s a digression that manages to convey Hungary’s history from the early 1800s to the 1990s through a family-owned printing press, which sets up the remainder of the story, meandering away from the early carefree chapters of the first section into plodding ennui and final disenchantment. By the end you’ll be as wistful as the academic nostalgist who believes he can research a daisy-chain of longing, going back daily:

Today, somebody longs for yesterday and they are leaving steaming evidence of their sadness and I can prove it, but yesterday there was somebody who was sure happiness ended the day before. I can go all the way to Jesus Christ and keep going. It’s going to take research, I admit that, but this is there.

Maybe you’ll yearn to feel so unsatisfied in an unfamiliar place or at least wish you’d visited Budapest instead of Prague, as I did a little.