VANISHED EMPIRE: Vienna; Budapest, Prague: The Three Capital Cities of the Habsburg Empire As Seen Today by Stephen Brook

VANISHED EMPIRE: Vienna; Budapest, Prague: The Three Capital Cities of the Habsburg Empire As Seen Today

Email this review


The Viennese are conceited; the citizens of Budapest, convivial; those of Prague, conniving--according to British author Brook (New York Days, New York Nights; Honkytonk Gelato), who substantiates his opinions with sometimes affectionate, sometimes acerbic, anecdotes about the several months he spent in the capital cities of the Habsburg Empire. It is not surprising that the author of a book on the dessert wines of the world devotes many pages to descriptions of the various meals he tucked away during his stay (Budapest rates high in Brook's gastronomic galaxy). Or that as a dedicated operagoer he reviews performances of La Boh‚me and Eugene Onegin--The Vienna Staatsoper gets his nod here. Not that Brook's experiences were limited to apple strudel and arias. He also interviews dissidents in all three countries, discusses economics and politics with the natives, and takes his readers on tours of the palaces and museums along his mute. For the most part, his observations are astute and revealing. His comments on the Kurt Waldheim controversy are especially insightful, as are his descriptions of Czech society. It's when he turns his attention to the residents of the cities that a certain nastiness intrudes. Women are described as having ""mudcake necks"" and ""hot air buttocks""; sallow complexions and flab are ruthlessly, examined and commented on. Brook concludes with a moving ""Coda"" in which he traces his Jewish roots through the trio of cities. Here, the tone mellows, as when he describes the overgrown Jewish cemetery in Vienna and comments, ""Let this place be left as it is, for as the years go by and the desolation becomes ever more complete, it will become an increasingly expressive memorial. . .to the extermination of a culture that endowed Vienna with a vitality it has subsequently lost."" Often supercilious, frequently sensitive, reporting.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1989
Publisher: Morrow