For centuries the magical atmosphere of Prague has been a magnet for writers who often use the city as the location for their stories. Here are some of the best and most popular pieces of literature with Prague as their protagonist.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Perhaps the best-known novel written by a Czech author was actually first published in French. Milan Kundera wrote it in exile and the story reflects on his experience as an emigrant. The novel follows a young couple – Tomáš and Tereza as they move to Switzerland after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but they return once they feel homesick only to be met with persecution from the secret police. The novel blends together interesting philosophies, modern history and a touching love story. Just be warned – it is quite erotic at times.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
As an expat in Prague, you are probably familiar with the often bizarre nature of bureaucracy. You will therefore likely relate to the struggles of Joseph K., the protagonist of this world-famous book by Franz Kafka. The young office clerk finds himself under investigation for an unspecified crime. When he tries to make sense of the secret allegations against him, he finds himself in surreal situations and encounters all sorts of weird characters. In this book, Prague becomes a dream-like realm where nothing seems to be logical, but which is strangely relatable to our everyday life.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
This fantasy novel explores the mystical nature of Prague. The story follows Karou, a seventeen-year-old Prague art student raised by chimaera, beings from another world, who ask her to collect human teeth for unknown purposes. If you are looking for a romantic fantasy story set in Prague, check out this novel. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first book in a trilogy.
Tales of the little Quarter by Jan Neruda
Originally published in 1877, this book explores a world that no longer exists: the little Quarter neighbourhood below Prague castle of the 19th century, nowadays an expensive place to live, but back then a rather poor area with many interesting characters. The book consists of thirteen separate stories from the neighbourhood inspired by the author’s childhood. Tales of the little Quarter is one of the most important works of Czech literature.
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
The story follows the English native Helen who lives in Prague working as a translator. Here she comes across the old legend of Melmoth – a masked spirit that travels the world looking for those who carry heavy guilt. What makes this novel stand out is the dark gothic atmosphere. Although it takes place in the 21st century, the story is inspired by 19th-century horror literature, but it is not too scary. Rather, it explores the darkness within each person.
Magic Prague by Angelo Maria Ripellino
This book was published in 1973 and was written by an Italian who fell in love with the city. Unlike the previously mentioned literary works, this book is more of a guide through the history and magic of the city, rather than a novel. It explores topics such as alchemy in Prague during the reign of Emperor Rudolph II., the Jewish quarter, all the various artists who lived in Prague and much more. Unlike other similar works, this book doesn’t forget to mention the negative aspects of the city, such as poverty and politics, creating a comprehensive image of the city on the Vltava river.
Did any of these books seem interesting to you? If yes, you can check if it is available in the Municipal library Prague. Since February 16th, some branches of the library operate dispensing windows where you can pick up books you reserve in advance on the MLP website. More information here: The library opens dispensing windows – book windows – Městská knihovna v Praze (mlp.cz)