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Weekly Shhhout-Out

Roaming librarians file dispatches from the world of information.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Czech, please!

view of town at hlubocka nad vltavou
In 2011, I spent two weeks in the Czech Republic. It was the first time I traveled outside the United States and my time in Czech was incredible! It is a beautiful country of forests, mountains and many small towns surrounding central squares that include ornate fountains and statues. Every other town seems to boast a spa (we did visit a beer spa, which sounds weird but ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip!) and I swear that every few miles on the road are signs for castles like Kost Castle, built in the late 13th century and beautifully preserved (if stark), or estates like Hluboká ,originally built in the 13th century and looking more like a classic English-style castle and grounds than Czech-style after two extensive remodels.
Many tourists visit only Prague and its surrounding region, not surprising considering that you could spend a couple of weeks in Prague alone and still not have enough time to see all that the city has to offer. As a history lover, Prague fascinated me. It was very easy to stand in the heart of the old town and feel the ghostly brush of centuries swirling around us. We spent less than two days there and I wished there had been more time to absorb it all!
our lady before tyn seen from the astronomical clock tower in prague
Thanks to vivid memories of that visit, I now notice how much literature takes place in, mentions or is by someone from Prague or the Czech Republic. Reading through scenes set in Prague takes me back to those cobblestone streets and I get swept up in the story being told. “Armchair travel” is a wonderful way to visit (or revisit) places in the world that time or fortune or dangerous conditions prevent you from seeing. If you would like to “see” Prague or the Czech Republic this way, use the list below to begin your own journey or click here for a longer list of titles that relate to the people and places of the Czech Republic.
1: Learn a little of the language.
It was wonderful to be able to say “prosím” and “dekuji” (please and thank you), “ano” and “ne” (yes and no) and exchange the common greeting “Dobrý den” (good day) in Czech.  In fact, it was enough for some shopkeepers and Czech natives to think that I had a much better command of the language than is really the case! A mistake they quickly realized when my eyes would widen at their stream of Czech until they paused long enough for me to say “Nemluvím cesky” (I don’t speak Czech). You can learn key phrases from Mango Languages or Czech out (get it?) language learning audiobooks from your local branch.
cover image of kolya2: Hear the language and glimpse the dark Czech sense of humor in movies.
The Good Soldier Schweik is a Czech classic about a reluctant buffoon of a soldier in the army during World War I. (Think Gomer Pyle and you get the general idea.) In Kolya, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, a down-on-his-luck but happy bachelor unexpectedly becomes guardian of a five year old boy who speaks only Russian and no Czech. Both films are in Czech with English subtitles. Follow this link to other Czech films in the MCPL collection.
3: Make (or dream of) travel plans.
Guidebooks are obviously great for planning, but you can also learn about a country just reading through them. Plus they are full of pictures! My mom was looking at one of our Czech travel guides and discovered a statue in Prague by provocative and famous Czech artist David Cerný that we sought out but never would have visited if not for the mention in the guidebook.
cover image of prague winter by madeline albright4: Read the history.
Prague in Black and Gold by Peter Demetz details the history of Prague from the myths of its founding through the twilight of World War II. Follow that with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s Prague Winter, her memoir of childhood years in Nazi occupied Prague, the aftermath World War II and the Communist ruled time span leading into the Cold War. Then let A Velvet Revolution: Vaclav Havel and the Fall of Communism by John Duberstein bring you through more recent Czech history and introduce you to the literary first President of the Czech Republic after Communism and the split from Slovakia. Which leads us to…
cover image of the trial by franz kafka5: Discover Czech authors.
 Vaclav Havel was a playwright and essayist before being elected President. MCPL has a few of his worksFranz Kafka may well be the most famous Czech author, notably for his human to cockroach story Metamorphosis, but did you know that another Czech author is credited for coining the term robot in a play written in 1920? Explore more Czech literature on the recommendation of super-librarian Nancy Pearl.
cover image of the book of blood and shadow by robin wasserman6. Let fiction be your guide.
My recent Czech obsession is directly a result of reading Robin Wasserman’s young adult novel The Book of Blood and Shadow. It is a Da Vinci Code style mystery featuring a group of friends who are trying to solve a centuries old mystery involving the interpretation of letters written from a young woman to her brother in Renaissance Prague. The friends travel to Prague, where much of the book’s action takes place, and I could picture many of the locations in my mind as I read. Complication by Isaac Adamson sounds eerie but interesting. The description from our catalog: combining a serial killer with a penchant for severed hands, a watch that runs backward and forward at the same time, cover image of complication by isaac adamsonan Eastern European gangster known only as Rumpelstiltskin and 16th century black magic, Complication follows young American Lee Holloway throughout Prague as he investigates the death of his brother. Click here for a more thorough listing of fiction set in Prague or the CzechRepublic.
CATEGORIES: Tina R. , Czech , Reader's Advisory , Travel
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Last edited: 11/6/2007