THE COASTS OF BOHEMIA by Derek Sayer

THE COASTS OF BOHEMIA

A Czech History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unconventional and original look at Czech history, examining the “artifacts of national culture,” both large and small. Sayer, a Canadian sociologist (University of Alberta, Edmonton) married to a native Czech, aims to set the record straight. His intention is to free Bohemia from the conventional and uninformed image of it as a pastoralized, romanticized, and Orientalized place far from the realms of Europe proper. His key point is that the displacement of Bohemia from its proper context “equally dislocates and deranges what we like to think of as our history.” The result is a daring and exciting book, energetically and beautifully written, and complexly conceived. Sayer pursues two tasks simultaneously and carries them off gracefully. First, he presents a history of Bohemia and Moravia during the 19th and 20th centuries. Rather than viewing this history vis-Ö-vis events in Western Europe, he focuses on concepts and manifestations of national identity and manipulations of these phenomena. Thus he lays bare the fascinating links between different periods. In chapters with telling titles such as “Rebirth,” “Mirrors of Identity,” and “Future Perfect,” he weaves together his copiously documented tale of how leaders from every period drew on Bohemia’s national heritage to further their aims. While one strand of Sayer’s narrative constructs his argument about the centrality of the sense of a national community and past and its appropriation by the powers-that-be, the other meticulously documents the material and cultural expressions of these trends. Sayer centers much of his discussion on artistic trends, especially Czech modern art, but he includes in his panoramic view everything from postage stamps to monuments and street names. Here national culture and memory are dissected in their entirety, from the grand gestures of national heroes and artists to the minutiae of everyday life. A rare “crossover” book that will appeal to both scholars and general readers interested in Central Europe, modernism, and debates about national identity.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-691-05760-5
Page count: 413pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998




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