PRAGUE IN BLACK AND GOLD by Peter Demetz

PRAGUE IN BLACK AND GOLD

Scenes from the Life of a European City
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A very interesting overview of key periods in the four- millennia-old history of central Europe's great ``gateway'' city (one of the meanings of the Czech Praha), which has also served as a bridge between the Slavic region to the east and the Germanic and Latin areas to the west. A Prague-born and -raised literary and intellectual historian, Demetz traces the enormous changes the city underwent between the Middle Ages and the eve of WW II. (Strangely, he does not extend his story to encompass either the brief ``Prague Spring'' of 1968 or the ``velvet revolution'' of 1989 that, with amazing swiftness, brought about communism's collapse.) Demetz is particularly interesting on the revolt led by followers of the martyred Jan Hus, a precursor to Luther, in the early 15th century, and on how the city affected, and sometimes dazzled, the host of literary and other creative figures who lived there or passed through, from Goethe to AndrÇ Breton. He also captures repeated moments of tension, and rather more uncommon ones of harmony, between the city's two large ethnic communities: Germans and Czechs. Both groups periodically turned violently against the city's third great community, the Jews, who also provided a disproportionate share of cultural and scientific leadership. Demetz's style is both richly anecdotal and well grounded in a wide range of secondary sources, and he does an excellent job of balancing political and cultural history. (As a city ``insider,'' Demetz seems particularly knowledgeable about Prague's neighborhoods and architecture.) However, he does have a propensity to overwhelm the reader with myriad names and, on occasion, to become bogged down in narrative details. In general, however, this is a fine introduction to a city that, like Rome or Jerusalem, has equally compelling legendary and actual histories. (maps)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8090-7843-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997




MORE BY PETER DEMETZ

NonfictionPRAGUE IN DANGER by Peter Demetz
by Peter Demetz
NonfictionTHE AIR SHOW AT BRESCIA, 1909 by Peter Demetz
by Peter Demetz

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionISLAND IN THE CITY by Micah McCrary
by Micah McCrary
NonfictionDREAMS OF A GREAT SMALL NATION by Kevin J. McNamara
by Kevin J. McNamara