Yesterday, I arrived home from an Eastern European tour with a heavier suitcase and an emptier wallet. I fanatically purchased book after book while there (and Hungarian wine too), making my suitcase so hefty that I exceeded the airline’s maximum weight limit. As punishment, they charged me a very excessive 100 euros for 4 extra kilos!
While exploring Prague last week, I came across a university book store located near Old Town Square. I ducked inside not only score some new reading materials, but also to warm up – it was cold outside!
Our tour director had provided a suggested reading list of Czech novels and I was excited to buy one or two of the titles. To my dismay, after I spent a good 10 minutes rummaging through my purse, I discovered I’d left the list at the hotel. I wasn’t about to leave empty handed, so I went to the small English selection in the store and browsed through titles. As I was looking for literature written by a Czech author, I ignored the North American best sellers and finally cast my eyes upon Bringing up Girls in Bohemia.
After a quick glance at the book’s front cover and a read of the back-cover, I was sold:
Michal Viewegh’s novel Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia is the story of the young Beata Kralova and her not-so-young tutor.
Beata is a 20-year-old drop-out and daughter of Denis Kral (i.e., King), a Czech “new millionaire” of dubious connections. Beata embraces lover after lover as well as new causes to Eastern Europe: the environment, animal rights, feminism, consumerism, new-age religion.
A satirical look at Prague today by the best of the new Czech writers.
This picturesque romp gives a gritty but hilarious portrait of today’s Prague, its mafiosi and their ex-secret police bodyguards, the expatriate American, and many an extraordinary Czech, from a cremation enthusiast to a hopelessly naive sex-education teacher.
The novel is also a serious exploration of the role of the writer in post-communist Central Europe. The narrator, himself and author and teacher who is in love with Beata, must portray her suicide in terms that explain her nihilism without losing faith in his own positive craft of story-telling. His hard-won credo as an artist is to be an entertainer in a world of newly felt cruelty and suffering.
My personal verdict on the book. I loved it – it was funny, smart, well written, and laden with tons of quotable one liners. Although a fictional story, it gives you a look into a world completely foreign to North Americans and other Westerners – post communist Europe.
I remember the night before I bought this book, we did a night tour of Prague. It was truly a beautiful experience. The city’s historical monuments, streets and squares were bursting with Christmas decorations and color, bathed in a glow of light. Big falling flakes of snow only added to the romance of the moment.
Behold the perfection:
Then our local tour guide sobered us with the news that during the Communist regime, such light and decorations were not permitted. The city was gray, bleak, and depressing. Christmas celebrations were low-key and celebrated quietly with family.
Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia is full of subtle nuances that are probably best understood by fellow Czechs who are intimately familiar with the culture, history, and language. Some who reviewed the book, feel the book is best read in it’s original form and some of the effect is lost in translation.
Further to this, the book is laced with themes such as post-modernism and deep discussions about authors and writing. While I loved the book after the first read (I was hooked when I took in the first page), I feel that I cannot yet come to appreciate it fully. To that end, I aim to read more reviews of the book, research some of the aforementioned topics, and give it another read.
See what others have said about the book:
- Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Girls-Bohemia-Michal-Viewegh/dp/1887378057?tag=jasonwiener-20
- BBC News – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/iron_curtain/466825.stm