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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
At first glance, Arthur Phillips's superb novel reads like an updated version of Ernest Hemingway's classic The Sun Also Rises -- with a healthy dose of Douglas Coupland's Generation X tossed into the mix. Set in eastern Europe after Communism's operatic demise in the early 1990s, this ambitious and exquisitely written debut centers on an eclectic group of young expatriates as they live, love, lie, and drink their way through the dimly lit, paprika-perfumed bars of Budapest.
Budapest? Yes, don’t be fooled by the title -- none of the characters in this novel ever make it to the enchanted city on the Vltava River, the "land of spires and toy palaces and golden painted gates and bridges with sad-eyed statues peering out over misty black water." Budapest, unlike its neighbor to the north, is a city battered by history, pockmarked with bullets, and left by its former occupiers to fade and crumble from time and abuse. Yet it is here that the likes of Charles Gábor, a shrewd financier who is set to grab hold of the fallen city and drag it into the 21st century; John Price, a sensitive, wide-eyed romantic writer; and Emily Oliver, a country bumpkin working at the U.S. embassy (and the object of John's affections) have chosen to live and work out their self-imposed exile.
If Hemingway's characters encapsulated a "Lost Generation," one frustrated and left to feel uncertain about a world literally discombobulated by the horrors of global war, Phillips's sojourners know no such drama. These wanderers are the grandchildren of the "Greatest Generation" -- a new generation insulated and isolated in many ways from world history. And that's where the beauty of Phillips's novel diverges from Hemingway's: How can a group of young, middle-class Americans who have never known oppression ever be anything but spectators in a world emerging from a 50-year prison sentence? They can't. Is Phillips's novel then a whiny talkfest about spoiled rich kids trying to find significance in their ultimately insignificant lives? Not at all. Prague, rich in history and beautifully written, ultimately explores the flight of the human soul toward some kind of truth and reveals that through exile from one's home, country, and history, self-perception can be plucked and ripened like a fruit on a window sill. This is an auspicious debut. (Stephen Bloom)