Visegrad: A Novel

Visegrad: A Novel

by Duncan Robertson
Visegrad: A Novel

Visegrad: A Novel

by Duncan Robertson


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"Visegrad is very funny and very insightful—into Central Europe, into the US, into the expat mind. I also have to reread it, probably right away, to sort out all the dizzying detail Robertson has packed it with. So, while I’m rereading it, you should be getting started now on reading it the first time."

—Arthur Phillips, author of Prague and The King at the Edge of the World

Meet Rye, a young American writer adrift in Visegrad, where the national sport is appearing to work as hard as possible while doing nothing at all. Things get complicated in this rollicking satire when Rye partners with a loan-shark who has purchased the outstanding student debt of his fellow expats. He squares their accounts by signing the likes of Colin Having, who suspects the world’s dogs of conspiring against him, H. Defer, who is developing a universal theory based on the wetness of feet, and the SEC man, who has been sent to Visegrad to determine how Rye’s boss acquires individual student loans.

Before long, Rye discovers he is being followed. Customers disappear and he is no longer free to leave the country. Rye realizes that he must sabotage the lucrative business he has helped build, or else abandon his friends to a shady cabal in the Visegrad government.

Visegrad presents a world at once familiar and preposterous—an imaginary world, and yet one that is historically accurate in its an amalgamation of Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Krakow, and Berlin. It is about getting away with something—being young, being cruel, falling in love. A must for fans of Prague (Arthur Phillips); The Sellout (Paul Beatty); Necessary Errors (Caleb Crain); All That Man Is (David Szalay); and Temporary People (Deepak Unnikrishnan).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781734537932
Publisher: New Europe Books
Publication date: 03/15/2022
Pages: 354
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Duncan Robertson is an American writer who has lived abroad, both in South Korea and Eastern Europe, since 2011. A native of Seattle, Washington, which he still visits regularly, he currently resides in Budapest, where he edits Panel, a magazine of English language literature produced in Central and Eastern Europe. His work has appeared in Expat Press Online, North Dakota Quarterly, and Unlikely Stories.

Read an Excerpt

From the Opening


I stayed up all night and supervised the destruction of McKayla’s and Lear’s passports in the morning.

It was important that the passports retain no information pertinent to security status or dates of entry, but be kept whole, in order to pass muster with the embassy. McKayla and Lear had tried ripping out pages, smearing them with ink and expunging them with bleach.

I sat on the counter and drank black pivni, watching McKayla use kitchen tongs to dunk the passports in boiling water.In their bedroom, Lear was dividing their possessions into individual piles.

They were to be backpackers on their way out of Visegrad, headed to Krakow and Prague, respectively. To this purpose, McKayla was already in character and dipping the passports in boiling water as a version of McKayla, a graduate student. She stewed the laminated pages and, whenever she brought them out, hissed disconsolately through her teeth.

Lear hadn’t done as much background work as McKayla, and so was dividing their possessions into individual piles as a version of me – as character work is about absorbing extraneous information, spending time with a personality, and sort of drinking that personality in.

“You’re crazy staying behind,” he said. “Get out while you can, is what I think.”

“What good will you do here by yourself?” asked McKayla.

“There’s nowhere for me to go.” I said. I attempted to light a backward cigarette.

McKayla watched me struggle for a moment, then plucked it from my mouth, turned it around, and replaced it between my lips.

“What did he say?” called Lear.

“He said he’s got nowhere else to go.”

“Budapest,” said Lear. He appeared in the door, clutching handfuls of lingerie. “You need this?”

“Yes,” said McKayla.

“What do you mean, Budapest?”

“I mean,” said Lear, pointing to himself, “Krakow,” pointing to McKayla, “Prague,” and pointing to me, “Budapest.”

“I don’t think I could live in Budapest,” I said.

“Rye,” said McKayla, “Whoever you think you’re protecting, in the’ end you will hurt yourself.”

“Is that working?” I asked, indicating the passport.

“I don’t know,” said McKayla. She frowned. “I don’t think so.”

“Then it’s my turn,” said Lear, and tossed her lingerie into the bedroom behind him. She lifted Lear’s passport from the pot so we could examine it under the hot white fluorescent light over the sink. The passport steamed. Its entry stamps were faded but their dates were still legible.

Lear cursed. He snatched her passport from the kitchen counter and prepared to burn it.

“Stop,” cried McKayla.

He hesitated, lighter flickering beneath its blue, vinylized corner. “Why?” he asked.

“Don’t you think it’s illegal to burn them?”

“So what?”

“Well, won’t we get in trouble if we show up with them at the embassy, burnt like that?”

“I don’t think burning is any worse than—” Lear yelped. He yanked his thumb from the lighter’s hot flint and nursed it, glaring. McKayla turned to me. “Rye, what do you think? Should we burn them?”

“What will you say happened?”

“See?” said McKayla. “See?”

Lear gave a betrayed grunt, then, then said ,”Accident.”

“What kind of accident?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Lear. “Workplace accident.”

McKayla snorted.

“I don’t want you to feel like we’re ganging up on you here,” I said, “but what kind of workplace accident do you foresee McKayla having?”

“It could fall into an incinerator.”

“An incinerator?” McKayla drew a sharp breath. “Like, in what capacity do you think I might be dangling my prize possessions over an incinerator?”

“Not dangling,” he said. “It could have fallen out of your pocket. Besides, nothing else has worked and we tried everything. You’ll have to come up with a reason why it burned.” He thrust the lighter back under the passport. McKayla swore and grabbed for it. He held it at arm’s length, balancing on the balls of his feet.

Then she relented and all three of us watched it the passport smoke.

After a while, Lear yelped and stuck his thumb back into his mouth.

“Good,” said McKayla. She bent to retrieve the little book, nudging him out of the way. He lost his balance and brushed against an enormous pyramid of long-neck, half liter pivni bottles that took up part of the apartment. The whole apparatus shifted precariously. We held our breath. A soldier leaned out of formation and fell, shattering on the kitchen floor.

“Whoops,” said Lear.

McKayla opened her passport. “Not a scratch.”

“What do you mean?” asked Lear.

“You can’t burn it.” She stepped back so we could confirm her diagnosis.

“What do they make these out of?” I ran a finger along the soot that had accumulated at the bottom of the page and it came away, exposing the date on a Vlodomerian Defense Forces’ Heightened Security Status stamp. “We should be using this material on the space shuttle and in levies and on the aspirations of people who give up on their childhood dreams.”

McKayla snapped her fingers. “Wait here.” She stomped out of the kitchen, pulverizing a shard of glass.

“Where would we go?” asked Lear.

I leaned against the kitchen counter, then jerked awake as my beer began to slip from my hand. I took another drink.

Lear regarded me coolly. “Jesus, would you take it easy?”

McKayla returned with a bag of large and fashionable dimensions. She rummaged through it, discarding used tissues, lip gloss, and Colin Having’s ragged copy ofThe Dim Corona of Lazlo Nawj.

She brought out a small bottle of nail polish and shook it. She unscrewed its top and removed the brush, placing it on the counter.

Purple dots rained on the laminate.

McKayla rolled back one sleeve, loosened the joints in the fingers of one of her hands theatrically, picking up the bottle and poured it across the open passport. She clamped it shut. “There.”

“How’ll we explain nail polish?” asked Lear.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Visegrad is a boisterous, hard-drinking satire on American exceptionalism and a generation too self-conscious to be lost. An auspicious and assured debut, bound for cult-classic status."

—Matt Henderson Ellis, author of Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café

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