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by Caleb Crain

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-14-312241-8
Publisher: Penguin

Crain takes us into the lives of expats teaching English in Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.    

At the core of this group is Jacob Putnam, a 20-something gay man who wants to become a writer but who’s temporarily keeping body and soul together by teaching. He’s also exploring his sexuality, a journey that takes him to the T-Club, a gay bar he discovered through an “alternative” guide to Prague nightlife. There, he meets a man, and they have a brief affair that initiates Jacob into the gay subculture of that city. At his day job, Jacob warily befriends a small circle of fellow teachers but is frequently unable to determine how much he should reveal to them about his sexual orientation. Rafe and Melinda are a cohabiting couple, though later in the novel, Melinda runs away from Prague with Carl, a friend of Jacob’s. Another teacher, Thom, is a Scot who makes jokes about gays while remaining ignorant of how much this hurts Jacob. Hans is one of the last die-hard socialists in Prague and likes to engage Jacob in conversations weighted with philosophical significance. This brave new world of post-repressive sexual freedom is supposed to be a place where, according to Jacob, “[n]o one is allowed to limit anyone’s options,” but this remains a Utopian ideal as long as relationships are real (and hence un-Utopian). Ultimately, Jacob takes up with Milo, who believes Jacob to be the author he wants to become, though ironically, Jacob decides he has to leave Prague—and Milo—to become the author Milo already thinks he is.

Crain’s world is drenched with the climate and colors—sometimes drab—of a post-revolutionary world of possibility and promise.