The Czech Republic 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.
‘The Metamorphosis’ — Franz Kafka
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.
‘Immortality’ — Milan Kundera
‘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 in Black and Gold’ — Peter Demetz
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.
‘Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed’ — Mary Heimann
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.
‘I Served The King of England’ — Bohumil Hrabal
‘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 Good Soldier Švejk’ — Jaroslav Hašek
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.
‘Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s’ — John Bills
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.
‘The Golem’ — Gustav Meyrink
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.
‘Gottland’ — Mariusz Szczygieł
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.
‘Tales from the Little Quarter’ — Jan Neruda
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.