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Prague : a novel
Arthur Phillips
Adult Fiction PHILLIPS

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Everything about this dazzling first novel is utterly original, including the title: it's about a group of young American (and one Canadian) expatriates living in Budapest in 1990, just after the Communist empire has collapsed, and the point of "Prague" is that it's the place everyone would rather be, except they have all somehow settled for Budapest as second best to their idealized Central European city. The author's way of bringing his five central characters onstage is also devilishly clever. They are playing a game invented by Charles Gabor, the only one with a Hungarian background called Sincerity, in which scores are made by telling convincing lies and by seeing through the lies of others. This serves at once to introduce these characters and allows the author to play with their sense of themselves. There is sophisticated, devious Charles, working for a New York investment company seeking newly privatized Hungarian businesses to invest in; Mark, a Canadian intellectual obsessed with the elements of nostalgia (and finding Budapest a rich repository); John, who writes a mordant column on the clashes of the old world and the new for the English-language BudapesToday; John's older brother, Scott, who despises him; and Emily, an apparent innocent from Nebraska who works at the U.S. Embassy. At the heart of the story is Charles's attempt to take over a venerable Hungarian publishing company, whose history is brilliantly sketched and whose aged scion, Imre Horvath, is a quintessential Central European survivor. John nurses a hopeless passion for Emily, becomes involved with a bald-headed collage artist and listens, enchanted, to the tales of an elderly pianist in the group's favorite jazz club. Mark disappears, Scott decamps and the publishing caper ends in disillusionment. But what happens in this novel is not nearly so important as Phillips's wonderful grasp Budapest's look, style and ethos, and his sometimes sympathetic, often scathing view of the Western interlopers. His writing is swift, often poetic, unerringly exact with voices and subtle details of time, place and weather. This novel is so complete a distillation of its theme and characters that it leaves a reader wondering how on earth Phillips can follow it up. Agent, Marly Rusoff. (June 18) Forecast: An introductory note to readers from Random editor Lee Boudreaux eloquently makes the case for this brilliant book, which seems certain to be widely and admiringly reviewed. Likely bookseller enthusiasm as well should help launch it to the position it deserves as the most memorable fiction debut of the year to date. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

This audacious first novel is set where else? in Budapest; Prague is simply the place to be, but our protagonists have not been able to get there. What amounts to a plot a term that entails too ordered a progression of events to seem quite right here unfolds in those heady days of 1989-90, right after communism expires in Eastern Europe, and involves a group of young expats (one Canadian, the rest Americans) with overlapping lives. Also present is a distinguished Hungarian survivor of last century's twin horrors, fascism and communism. Despite the often desultory movement of Phillips's characters along the avenues of Pest and across the Danube bridges, with little happening but the disappointment that nothing much is happening, the author commands a sweep of history and a mastery of language that make this debut highly impressive. Phillips's exhilarating exploration of time, memory, and nostalgia brings to mind such giants as Proust and Joyce. A rich, spicy goulash served up to all with an appetite for fine writing and history. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/02.] Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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more titles about

main characters Charles Gabor
Age: Young adult
Hungarian American
Works for a New York investment company; devious; sophisticated.

John Price
Age: Young adult
Has an unrequited love for Emily.

Scott Price
Age: Young adult
John's elder brother; health enthusiast; language teacher.

Emily Oliver
Age: Young adult
U.S. Embassy employee

Mark Payton
Obsessed by nostalgia.

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