Prague, often hailed as the “City of a Hundred Spires,” is a dream destination for book lovers and literary enthusiasts. This enchanting city, with its well-preserved medieval architecture, winding cobblestone streets, and the iconic Charles Bridge, seems to leap straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. However, it’s not just the physical beauty of Prague that captivates visitors; the city has a rich literary heritage that has inspired countless authors. From the surreal worlds of Franz Kafka to the introspective narratives of Milan Kundera, Prague’s unique atmosphere and historical depth have made it a vivid backdrop for some of the most notable works in modern literature.
Exploring Prague is akin to walking through a living museum of literature. Visitors can venture into the labyrinthine Old Town, where Gothic and Baroque buildings huddle around narrow lanes, echoing with the whispers of centuries-old tales. Landmarks such as the Kafka Museum and the Strahov Monastery’s grand library provide direct links to the city’s literary past. Moreover, the city’s numerous cafes, such as Café Louvre and Café Slavia, once frequented by writers and intellectuals, offer a perfect setting to delve into a good book while soaking in the ambiance that may have inspired it. For those intrigued by the mystique of the Golem legend, a walk through the old Jewish Quarter, with its ancient synagogues and the haunting Old Jewish Cemetery, is a must.
Beyond its historical and literary allure, Prague presents a vibrant cultural scene. The city hosts numerous literary festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating both local and international authors. Bookstores and quaint reading spots are scattered throughout the city, often hosting readings, discussions, and book signings. The blend of historical charm, literary significance, and a thriving contemporary cultural life makes Prague an unparalleled destination for tourists who are not just looking to explore a city, but to immerse themselves in a living story that continues to inspire writers and artists from around the world.
Prague, with its rich history and picturesque setting, has been the backdrop for many notable books. Here’s a list of 10 such books.
Prague in books
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
Set in Prague during the 1968 Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion, this novel explores the lives of four characters: a surgeon named Tomas, his wife Tereza, his lover Sabina, and her lover Franz. The story delves into philosophical discussions on lightness versus heaviness and the transient nature of existence.
“Prague” by Arthur Phillips
Despite its title, the majority of this novel is set in Budapest. It follows a group of young expatriates from various countries who are living in Budapest in the early 1990s. The story revolves around their personal and professional struggles and the search for their own identities in a post-Communist world.
“The Trial” by Franz Kafka
This surreal novel tells the story of Josef K., a man who is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Set against the backdrop of Prague, the story delves into themes of bureaucracy, justice, and personal struggle.
“The Golem” by Gustav Meyrink
Set in the Jewish ghetto of medieval Prague, this novel is inspired by the legend of the Golem, a clay giant created by a rabbi to protect the Jewish community. The story mixes mysticism, existential despair, and a deep dive into the psychological.
“The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera
This novel, part narrative and part philosophical essay, is set in various locations including Prague. It explores the themes of memory, laughter, and forgetting, particularly in the context of the political situation in Czechoslovakia during the Communist era.
“I Served the King of England” by Bohumil Hrabal
This is the story of Ditie, a small, ambitious waiter in Prague, and his experiences before, during, and after World War II. It’s a tale of love, ambition, and the ways in which the political upheavals of the time impact the ordinary man.
“Death and the Penguin” by Andrey Kurkov
Set in post-Soviet Prague, this dark comedy revolves around a struggling writer who gets a job writing obituaries for a local newspaper. The twist comes when the people he writes about start dying, entangling him in a larger political conspiracy.
“Prague Fatale” by Philip Kerr
Part of the Bernie Gunther series, this novel is set in 1941, in Nazi-occupied Prague. Bernie, a Berlin detective, finds himself in Prague investigating a murder at the country house of Reinhard Heydrich, the infamous “Butcher of Prague.”
“The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain” by Peter Sís
This illustrated novel presents a personal portrayal of life behind the Iron Curtain in Prague. Using both text and drawings, Sís recounts his youth in Communist Czechoslovakia, providing insights into the daily life and struggles of people living under such a regime.
“The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek
This satirical novel set during World War I follows the story of Josef Švejk, an Austro-Hungarian army soldier from Prague. The story humorously depicts Švejk’s adventures and misadventures in the army and is a critical commentary on the absurdities of war and military bureaucracy.
These books provide a diverse and rich literary exploration of Prague and its history, offering readers a blend of fiction and real-life experiences from different eras.