The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History / Edition 1

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Overview

In The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare gave the landlocked country of Bohemia a coastline--a famous and, to Czechs, typical example of foreigners' ignorance of the Czech homeland. Although the lands that were once the Kingdom of Bohemia lie at the heart of Europe, Czechs are usually encountered only in the margins of other people's stories. In The Coasts of Bohemia, Derek Sayer reverses this perspective. He presents a comprehensive and long-needed history of the Czech people that is also a remarkably original history of modern Europe, told from its uneasy center.

Sayer shows that Bohemia has long been a theater of European conflict. It has been a cradle of Protestantism and a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation; an Austrian imperial province and a proudly Slavic national state; the most easterly democracy in Europe; and a westerly outlier of the Soviet bloc. The complexities of its location have given rise to profound (and often profoundly comic) reflections on the modern condition. Franz Kafka, Jaroslav Hasek, Karel Capek and Milan Kundera are all products of its spirit of place. Sayer describes how Bohemia's ambiguities and contradictions are those of Europe itself, and he considers the ironies of viewing Europe, the West, and modernity from the vantage point of a country that has been too often ignored.

The Coasts of Bohemia draws on an enormous array of literary, musical, visual, and documentary sources ranging from banknotes to statues, museum displays to school textbooks, funeral orations to operatic stage-sets, murals in subway stations to censors' indexes of banned books. It brings us into intimate contact with the ever changing details of daily life--the street names and facades of buildings, the heroes figured on postage stamps--that have created and recreated a sense of what it is to be Czech. Sayer's sustained concern with questions of identity, memory, and power place the book at the heart of contemporary intellectual debate. It is an extraordinary story, beautifully told.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Republic - Tony Judt
[Derek Sayer's The Coasts of Bohemia] is an ambitious, elegantly written, and sympathetic account of the art, the literature and the politics of the Czech people.... Sayer saunters gracefully and with sure footing back and forth across centuries of Czech religion, mythology, and history, displaying enthusiasm and engagement but immune to the usual self-serving national illusions.... His book is a delight.
New York Review of Books - R.J.W. Evans
A rich and intricate story.... Excellent ... the most stimulating introduction to [its] subject available in English, or ... any other language.
Vancouver Sun - Stan Persky
Sayer's penetrating and balanced discussion of Czech political and cultural history should spare us from ever again thinking of the central European place as 'a far away country'.
The Times Literary Supplement - Steven Beller
A masterful essay on the ironies and tragedies of both the cultural history of the Czechs and Czech culture's history of its own past.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1998

"[Derek Sayer's The Coasts of Bohemia] is an ambitious, elegantly written, and sympathetic account of the art, the literature and the politics of the Czech people.... Sayer saunters gracefully and with sure footing back and forth across centuries of Czech religion, mythology, and history, displaying enthusiasm and engagement but immune to the usual self-serving national illusions.... His book is a delight."--Tony Judt, The New Republic

"A rich and intricate story.... Excellent ... the most stimulating introduction to [its] subject available in English, or ... any other language."--R.J.W. Evans, New York Review of Books

"Sayer's penetrating and balanced discussion of Czech political and cultural history should spare us from ever again thinking of the central European place as 'a far away country'."--Stan Persky, Vancouver Sun

"A masterful essay on the ironies and tragedies of both the cultural history of the Czechs and Czech culture's history of its own past."--Steven Beller, The Times Literary Supplement

New York Review of Books
A rich and intricate story.... Excellent ... the most stimulating introduction to [its] subject available in English, or ... any other language.
— R.J.W. Evans
Vancouver Sun
Sayer's penetrating and balanced discussion of Czech political and cultural history should spare us from ever again thinking of the central European place as 'a far away country'.
— Stan Persky
The New Republic
[Derek Sayer's The Coasts of Bohemia] is an ambitious, elegantly written, and sympathetic account of the art, the literature and the politics of the Czech people.... Sayer saunters gracefully and with sure footing back and forth across centuries of Czech religion, mythology, and history, displaying enthusiasm and engagement but immune to the usual self-serving national illusions.... His book is a delight.
— Tony Judt
The Times Literary Supplement
A masterful essay on the ironies and tragedies of both the cultural history of the Czechs and Czech culture's history of its own past.
— Steven Beller
The New Republic
[Derek Sayer's The Coasts of Bohemia] is an ambitious, elegantly written, and sympathetic account of the art, the literature and the politics of the Czech people.... Sayer saunters gracefully and with sure footing back and forth across centuries of Czech religion, mythology, and history, displaying enthusiasm and engagement but immune to the usual self-serving national illusions.... His book is a delight.
— Tony Judt
Library Journal
Historically, the Czech people have long been oppressed and have only recently gained true independence. Therefore, it is difficult to uncover the origins and long history of the Czech people and Bohemia. Here Sayer (sociology, Univ. of Alberta in Edmonton) takes a sociologist's approach to history by writing about the emergence of the Czech nationality. He meticulously tracks and details the growth of Czech nationalism through literature, theater, art, architecture, language, and music to provide a thorough story of how the Czechs shed the oppression of the German and Austrian reigns over their land to become a distinct people. While a bit cumbersome to read, Sayer's work is groundbreaking in its scope and direction. Jill Jaracz, Chicago
Steven Beller
A masterful essay on the ironies and tragedies of both the cultural history of the Czechs and Czech culture's history of its own past.
The Times Literary Supplement
New York Review of Books
A rich and intricate story.... Excellent... the most stimulating introduction to [its] subject available in English, or ... any other language.
Kirkus Reviews
An unconventional and original look at Czech history, examining the "artifacts of national culture," both large and small. Sayer, a Canadian sociologist (University of Alberta, Edmonton) married to a native Czech, aims to set the record straight. His intention is to free Bohemia from the conventional and uninformed image of it as a pastoralized, romanticized, and Orientalized place far from the realms of Europe proper. His key point is that the displacement of Bohemia from its proper context "equally dislocates and deranges what we like to think of as our history." The result is a daring and exciting book, energetically and beautifully written, and complexly conceived. Sayer pursues two tasks simultaneously and carries them off gracefully. First, he presents a history of Bohemia and Moravia during the 19th and 20th centuries. Rather than viewing this history vis-…-vis events in Western Europe, he focuses on concepts and manifestations of national identity and manipulations of these phenomena. Thus he lays bare the fascinating links between different periods. In chapters with telling titles such as "Rebirth," "Mirrors of Identity," and "Future Perfect," he weaves together his copiously documented tale of how leaders from every period drew on Bohemia's national heritage to further their aims. While one strand of Sayer's narrative constructs his argument about the centrality of the sense of a national community and past and its appropriation by the powers-that-be, the other meticulously documents the material and cultural expressions of these trends. Sayer centers much of his discussion on artistic trends, especially Czech modern art, but he includes in his panoramic view everything frompostage stamps to monuments and street names. Here national culture and memory are dissected in their entirety, from the grand gestures of national heroes and artists to the minutiae of everyday life. A rare "crossover" book that will appeal to both scholars and general readers interested in Central Europe, modernism, and debates about national identity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691050522
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 706,361
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Table of Contents


LIST OF MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
A NOTE ON CZECH PRONUNCIATION
BEARINGS
ONE The Company of Our Great Minds
A Great Artist and a Great Czech
The End of Culture
Faithful We Shall Remain
TWO Materials of Memory
The Crown of Saint Wenceslas
Against All
Three Hundred Years We Suffered
THREE Rebirth
The Count's National Theater
Enlightenment
Home Cooking
FOUR Mirrors of Identity
A Burghers' Banquet
The Affordable National Library
Little Golden Chapel on the Vltava
A Cathedral and a Fortress
A Procession of Servant Girls
Palacky's Looking-Glass
A Discovery in Dvur Kralove
Memories of Ivancice
FIVE Modernisms and Modernities
Futurist Manifestos
Guten Tag und auf Wiedersehen
The Completion of Saint Vitus's
New Hussite Armies
The International Style
Emily Comes in a Dream
SIX Eternal Returns
The Art of Remaining Standing
Grave Far Away
Bila hora Redressed--Again
SEVEN Future Perfect
Neither the Swan nor the Moon
Prayer for Marta
The Lineup for Meat
In the Land Where Tomorrow Already Means Yesterday
Father Ales and Old Mr. Jirasek
Children's Eyes and Fiery Tongues
Love Is at Work It Is Tireless
NOTES
SOURCES
INDEX
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