The Czech Republic (or Czechia as it's now known, kind of) has a proud history of writing, be it fact or fiction, and many of these great tomes have the country placed front and centre of the story. Few countries provide the potential visitor with as varied a reading list beforehand, a collection of books that will make you all the more desperate to visit this special part of the world. These are 10 to pay special attention to.
While the Czechs largely ignored Kafka until the ‘90s (when American tourists started asking questions), the neurotic boy has well and truly been embraced in the modern age. There are a number of standouts in his bibliography, with The Trial, The Castle and Amerika getting major plaudits, but we’ll put our hat on the tale of Gregor Samsa being his best.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is undoubtedly his best known, but it is absolutely worth dipping into deeper Milan Kundera to find some real enlightenment. ‘Immortality’ is a book we return to time and time again, as much for the questions it answers as those it asks.
Prague truly is a city that has everything, and that everything is explored in deep detail by Peter Demetz. The entire history of the city is dissected in fine style, from Kafka to communism via everything in between.
Why did Czechoslovakia fall apart? Why didn’t it work in the first place? What went wrong? These are the questions asked by Mary Heimann, in what is probably the best book when it comes to investigating the failure of Czechoslovakia.
Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age was a little too out there for us, but the alternating joy and despair of I Served The King of England was right up our street. Bohumil Hrabal understood life a little better than most, which eventually proved his downfall. This is a great book.
The most translated Czech novel of them all, it is difficult to avoid ‘The Good Soldier Švejk’ in Czechia. The pudgy face of the illustrated soldier is everywhere, and many might assume that he is about as mainstream as it gets. Don’t ignore the book on that account though, it really is a uproariously fun jaunt through institutionalised insanity.
Written by a member of our very own editorial team, Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s is a joyful run through the history of Prague, one metro station at a time. Bills visited every single underground stop during his time in the city, covering every inch in search of the (spoiler) mythical ‘Real Prague’, encountering executions, plagues, sexual vagrants, communism and plenty of booze along the way.
A visit to Prague’s Jewish Quarter is an absolute must when in the capital, and you’ll see plenty of references to the Golem while you are there. Learn about this curious beast by reading this often magical novel, one of the best examples of unorthodox fiction that Europe has produced.
Another fascinating look at the real lives of Czechs, Polish writer Mariusz Szczygieł travelled around the country to find out what made one half of Czechoslovakia tick. Equal parts amusing and disturbing, this is a great read.
Prague has inspired and produced many writers over the years, but few have defined a part of town quite like Jan Neruda. Malá Strana is one of the most popular parts of Prague, and it was the stories of Neruda that gave it the modern character it oozes today.