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The Writer and the City

The concept of ‘armchair travel’ seems a bit antiquated in these days of discount world-wide travel, but happily this small series, “The Writer and the City” from Bloomsbury Press will do much to revive this neglected literary genre.  “Caveat Emptor…[begins the preface].  This is not a guidebook, nor was it meant to be.  As to what it is, that is harder to say.  A handful of recollections, variations on a theme.  An effort to conjure a place be a mingled effort of memory and imagination…” Conjure, he does, as Banville brings Prague to life first through his own 1980s cold war visit where he engaged in a ‘spot of art smuggling’, to a look at the city in the 1500s through the lens of Tycho Brahe and scientist Johannes Kepler.  The complex history of the city comes alive in this section and is contrasted with its diminution in the 1950s.  Banville concludes the book with his own return visit in the 1990s when he finds himself convening a session, much to his dismay, on east-west influences in Czech literature.  You would expect the writers in this series to be famous literary denizens of their assigned metropolis.  Not in this case.  Banville is an Irish writer, noted most recently as the winner of the Man Booker Prize for his 2005 novel, The Sea.  He is clearly passionate about Prague and brings both its history and residents, common or famous, to life.  A gem.

Amy P.

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