A young American expatriate struggles to find his footing in late-1990s Prague, which is having a hard time getting its own act together.
Kimberling’s (Snapper, 2013) second book is a comic novel, and the butt of the joke is usually Elliott, who arrives in the Czech capital from Indiana (“the South’s middle finger”) to teach English but is mostly disoriented by its absurd status following the Iron Curtain’s collapse. Elliott’s students allegedly want to claim some of capitalism’s bounty but are mainly interested in learning English slang and mocking Americans’ Cold War behavior. (“Either you had a low opinion of our bombs or a high opinion of your desks,” one student tells Elliott in response to nuclear-bomb duck-and-cover drills.) Elliott is motivated to mature (somewhat) with the arrival of Amanda, a British ESL teacher he quickly falls for. Their romance runs at a low boil—after all, everything feels temporary in the city—but their travels through the new Czech Republic are entertaining, characterized by light irony or black comedy: A performance of Don Giovanni that “might as well have been mounted by toddlers”; the Church of Bones, where “beer cans, candy wrappers, and spent Marlboros” mix with “pelvises, coccyges, patellae, and skulls”; a cozy hotel where they spend the night that turns out to be a brothel. Kimberling has a rich store of peculiar tales to share, from a penguin smuggler to a mansion whose fireplace mantle “could have slept a family of five comfortably.” The novel’s episodic structure and laugh lines diminish the impact of Elliott’s more sour reckonings toward the end, but Kimberling’s deadpan wit and powers of observation amply compensate.
A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.