ABOUT THIS BOOK
A poignant reflection on alienation and belonging, told through the lives of five remarkable people who struggled against nationalism and intolerance in one of Europe’s most stunning cities.
What does it mean to belong somewhere? For many of Prague’s inhabitants, belonging has been linked to the nation, embodied in the capital city. Grandiose medieval buildings and monuments to national heroes boast of a glorious, shared history. Past governments, democratic and Communist, layered the city with architecture that melded politics and nationhood. Not all inhabitants, however, felt included in these efforts to nurture national belonging. Socialists, dissidents, Jews, Germans, and Vietnamese—all have been subject to hatred and political persecution in the city they called home.
Chad Bryant tells the stories of five marginalized individuals who, over the last two centuries, forged their own notions of belonging in one of Europe’s great cities. An aspiring guidebook writer, a German-speaking newspaperman, a Bolshevik carpenter, an actress of mixed heritage who came of age during the Communist terror, and a Czech-speaking Vietnamese blogger: none of them is famous, but their lives are revealing. They speak to tensions between exclusionary nationalism and on-the-ground diversity. In their struggles against alienation and dislocation, they forged alternative communities in cafes, workplaces, and online. While strolling park paths, joining political marches, or writing about their lives, these outsiders came to embody a city that, on its surface, was built for others.
A powerful and creative meditation on place and nation, the individual and community, Prague envisions how cohesion and difference might coexist as it acknowledges a need common to all.
[A] subtle, lyrical book. Like the denizens of many other cities, Praguers have juggled identities for centuries…Chad Bryant concentrates on five fascinating individuals, guiding readers through Czech history along the way.
-- The Economist
What is rich and suggestive is [Bryant’s] tracing of ‘practices of belonging’—strategies which complicate the overarching narratives of Czech history by showing how individuals shape their sense of self within the city—and, specifically, this city, with its vertiginous political and ideological shifts…Prague is an inventive, engaging call to imagine the city not only from the perspective of prophetic panorama, but also from the experience of the citizen on foot.
-- Kathryn Murphy Times Literary Supplement
Brilliant…Prague is a remarkable book and [it] illuminates our ways of inhabiting modern cities in times past and present.
-- Nandini Bhattacharya The Telegraph (India)
A worthwhile tome for anyone who wants to get under the skin of this fabulous and historic city.
Provides differing perspectives of past and present-day Prague. Each nuanced viewpoint (be it German, Czech, revolutionary, communist, or global) captures the imagination by tapping into the sense of belonging and its relationship to nationalism…Evocative and well-researched…Recommended for travelers interested in the history and politics of Prague.
-- Library Journal
[An] evocative and innovative study…Bryant has woven for us a rich tapestry, using the lives of five very different characters to tell the story of the city over a century and a half, and of the various ways in which people have imagined their place in it. In so doing, he pushes our boundaries in thinking about the meaning of Czech identity, making a robust case for a more multifaceted approach to it.
-- Brigitte Le Normand Journal of Planning History
An exciting work in urban history…By focusing on what it means to live in times of change, to dwell in the city, and to belong in an often fragmented and contested sense of community, Prague extends urban history into a wider interdisciplinary field deeply informed by social theory, spatial thinking, and a rich geographical imagination…Both a pleasure to read and a useful guide to thinking about cities.
-- John Pickles Journal of the Bulgarian Geographical Society
A lively jaunt through Czech history from the nineteenth century to the present told via the lives of five individuals who found themselves in Prague searching for a sense of belonging.
-- Paulina Bren, author of The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free
A beautifully written biography of a city told through the lives of individuals who inhabited it. Bryant goes deep into Prague’s social, political, and cultural history, featuring characters who move between different communities of belonging—Czech-speaking, German-speaking, Jewish, communist, Vietnamese. While this book complicates our understanding of what it means to be ‘Czech,’ it also illuminates the search for belonging across the modern world.
-- Tara Zahra, author of The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
An innovative, engagingly written book that uses the stories of five Prague residents to subtly upend the traditional narratives of Czech history. Throughout Bryant emphasizes the human element in the search for home and community, showing belonging not only as a practice of pursuing connection, but as an emotional need. The result is a sweeping history of the Bohemian lands, both a masterful synthesis and at the same time highly original.
-- Melissa Feinberg, author of Curtain of Lies: The Battle over Truth in Stalinist Eastern Europe
Prague creates its own niche and then fills it beautifully, with brisk, fluent writing and an appealing mix of historical background and individual stories. In looking at history from below, through the lives of people who don’t quite fit in, Bryant offers a new way of seeing the city as a crossroads of varied cultures and identities.
-- Jonathan Bolton, author of Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism
Engaging even for the casual reader, and at the same time a masterfully crafted work of scholarship. For historians of Central Europe, the book offers a number of inspiring ideas and concepts that can also be applied to the history of other Central European cities.
-- Patrícia Fogelová Individual and Society
Moving and deeply informative.
-- Addison Del Mastro Mere Orthodoxy
Bryant is to be commended for producing an eminently readable book that weaves together the broader trajectories of Czech history with the more everyday aspects of life in Prague over the last two centuries.
-- Joshua Hagen H-Net Reviews
Original…The author offers a history of the city as a living organism as told through the life stories of its actual inhabitants.
-- Jakub Rakosník Deník N
The concept of ‘belonging’ allows [Bryant] to turn urban history into a true biography of the modern city through the authentic experience of real individuals…A very fine scholarly work.
-- Jakub Rákosník Austrian History Yearbook