Title: Prague – Belonging in the Modern City
Author: Chad Bryant
Page Count: 254 (324 with Abbreviations, Notes, and Acknowledgements)
Publication Date: 2021
In 2015, I traveled to Europe for the first time. I was 21, living my best life with friends I had made during a semester abroad. We went on adventures through Ireland (where we were studying), the United Kingdom, Germany, Amsterdam, and Czechia. For me, Czechia, and Prague in particular, hold the dearest place in my heart.
My grandmother was the daughter of two Czech immigrants (long before the country was divided into Czechia and Slovakia). She often spoke of Prague in awe – a place she had never been but knew as somewhere magical. She would relay stories told to her by her mother, reminiscing about family trips to the Big City from their hometown of Nové Mesto. I knew I had to go if I had the chance.
I fell in love with the mystic nature of the capital – it was a Medieval wonderland placed in the middle of modern-day. As I walked through the city I couldn’t help but think about the people that had lived there from times past and what their lives were like when they walked the cobblestone streets of the city.
While it’s been almost seven years since my visit to Prague, my fascination with my Czech heritage and my interest in my great grandparents’ story has not; it’s done the complete opposite. So, when I saw Bryant’s title on a bookshelf at The Regulator in Durham, NC, I knew I had to buy it.
Bryant’s approach to telling Prague’s story is more like writing a novel than a history book. His prose read like taking a stroll through the centuries of modern-day Prague. He touches every nook and cranny of a flawed and rugged past while still respecting the enchanted nature of a Bohemian mecca.
Within each chapter, Bryant introduces you to a new resident of Prague during a certain era in the city’s history. It’s as if you’re talking with strangers about their time and get the chance to experience a snippet of their life stories. Bryant meticulously selected individuals who embodied the idea of “other” during their point in Prague’s chronology:
- A Czech-speaking travel book writer in the 1840s, when Prague was still very much a German city.
- A German-speaking Jewish crime-beat reporter when antisemitism was at its height in the country.
- A Communist carpenter shortly after World War I ready for systemic change.
- An actress surviving the Communist regime post-World War II.
- An immigrant blogger navigating what it means to be both Czech and Vietnamese.
Bryant makes roughly 150 years of history digestible, enjoyable, and compelling by writing through the eyes of raw individuals. He makes you think about what it truly means to belong in a place and how everyday people are the real building blocks of a city’s story.
I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from this book – a mantra I feel deep in my traveler soul:
“What happens if, instead of focusing on the sights around us, we simply contemplate the stones beneath our feet? What happens if we imagine Rosenstein and the tens of thousands of Praugers who also walked here, their many differences aside?”Bryant, Charles. Prague: Belonging in the Modern City, pg. 251. Harvard University Press, 2021
Are you ready to learn about Bohemia and its capital, Prague through the eyes of its people? Buy Bryant’s text here.