Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
As I started reading this I was struck by a sense of familiarity as writer Rachael Weiss described Prague. Had I read something like this before? The penny dropped when I realised that I had read one of Weiss’ earlier memoirs, me, Myself & Praugue. Here’s the blurb:
When Rachael Weiss left a good job, Thelma the cat and a normal life in Sydney for the romantic dream of being a writer in Prague she intended to stay forever. She lasted just three years, exasperated by the eccentricities of her ancestral city and the mind-boggling bureaucracy and customs of a country that values beer and potatoes above everything else. In this surprising and generous memoir full of warmth and unstoppable sociability, Rachael attempts to write her great novel, buy an apartment (any apartment!), dodge unscrupulous employers, and perhaps find love. She gets lost in the woods with a Kyrgyzstani software engineer who wants to eat humans, finds herself leading services at the Spanish synagogue with no real idea of what she was doing and spends long nights drinking beer with a colourful cast of crazy, warm and slightly mad locals and expats. Rich in absurdities and gentle humour, The Thing About Prague is rife with insight, culture clashes, friendships and above all charm.
Here are some snippets – this one’s on moving to Prague:
‘I’d like to say that my decision to move to Prague permanently was based on something grand and noble – a desire to trace my roots, a sense of adventure, my literary heart yearning to burst into flower in the sweet soil of Old Europe – but I can’t. The truth is that I had nothing better to do.’
Making friends is like dating. In this instance I was the keener party. Well, I was pretty much always the keener party, except among expats, owing to my lack of friends. (p73)
On real estate agents:
…I began to think that in fact it was just that they didn’t really get the concept of selling, even twenty years after the fall of communism. It just didn’t seem to matter to them whether they sold or not. And when they did turn up, it didn’t appear as though their clients cared if they sold or not either. Time after time in these dreadful manky places I found myself wondering why they’d not even gone to the trouble of scrubbing the stains off the wall, let alone putting a bulb in the empty lighting sockets. (p84)
The idea of moving overseas to Europe often sound so looks so romantic. The descriptions of the food, the people and landscape act as a sort of rose-coloured filter, making it easy to brush away or laugh off the inevitable paperwork and language difficulties (which, let’s face it, are usually pretty funny). Weiss’ latest memoir is certainly entertaining, especially as she struggles to communicate in a difficult-to-learn languauge, but makes it clear – moving to Prague is not easy. Finding a job that doesn’t involve teaching English for low pay is not easy. Buying an apartment is not easy. But despite the difficulties, Weiss never loses sight of the eccentric charm that called her to Prague. Her story is told with self-deprecating humour, a knack for spinning out a story, and plenty of insight. It made me want to visit Prague … but perhaps not live there.
One for travel memoir lovers, anyone who wants to or has been to Prague, or anyone considering packing it all in for a new life in another country.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.