Budapest! The city most recommended to me by my friends. The Paris of the East. The queen of the Danube! I don’t know what else. To be honest I didn’t know people called it those things till I read Prague.
Again this is not a list book because it turns out that English translations of novels by Eastern European authors are very hard to come by on the Kindle. And also fairly expensive where available. What gives, Amazon? Also when I spend actual money on a book I like to be able to physically have that book (but I think I’ve made that case against ereaders before).
So Prague was recommended to me by my brother and an excellent recommendation it was. It follows four young Americans and one Canadian (they make the point that he’s not American a lot) who for various reasons find themselves in Budapest in 1990 looking for fortune, adventure and self discovery.
It’s actually the perfect book to read while in Budapest – they go around hanging out in recognisable places and talking about the aesthetics of those places that I then could go see. It has interesting sidebars into Hungarian history and politics and it gives what seems to be a very convincing account of what it was like in Budapest at the time. The place feels real and the characters feel real, both getting more complex as the story goes along. The characters flesh out to become believably flawed, deceiving each other and themselves while engaging in tricky games of business, politics and propaganda.
Budapest is so beautiful, a mishmash of fairytale castles in different styles. There are classical buildings sitting next to tacky 80s hotels and casinos and the hills all around make for tiring climbs and amazing views. We spent most of our time wandering around looking at all the prettiness and the book made a nice contrast to that. It was a healthy reminder that things are more complicated than they seem and that real life is what happens when you’re trying to find your perfect real-life-moment. It was full of fun stylistic quirks (some of them didn’t quite work for me, like an ‘exam paper’ for the owner of a publishing press during wartime) and clever language and was really good fun to read.