These are just few books that a Prague lover may want to grab before heading to Prague or after getting back from your Prague literarary tour. We will be adding books but will be happy if you let us know of any treasures that you feel other Prague lovers should know of. Thank you!
Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)
It is impossible to talk about 20th century literature in Prague without mentioning Franz Kafka. For those who would like to penetrate the mysterious world of this Prague born Jewish German-language writer, their reading list should include:
- The Metamorphosis
- The Trial
- The Castle
Only a few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime but the publisher, Max Brod, ignored Kafka’s wish to have the manuscripts destroyed, and published most of his works.
E.E. Kisch (1885 – 1948)
Czech writer and journalist, who wrote in German. Nicknamed the “Raging Reporter from Prague”, Kisch is considered one of the founders of the Czech investigative and reportage journalism. He wrote books about his numerous trips, such as:
- Zaren, Popen, Bolschewiken (On the Soviet Union) (1926)
- Paradies Amerika (On the United States) (1929)
- Secret China (1933)
Franz Werfel (1890 – 1945)
Czech-Jewish novelist and playwright born in Prague, later moved to Vienna where he met and fell in love with Alma Mahler, widow of Gustav Mahler, the former lover of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, and the wife of the architect Walter Gropius. By the end of the nineteen-twenties, Werfel had become one of the most important and established writers in German and Austrian literature. Werfel and Alma left Austria after the German occupation in 1938 and finally settled in the United States where Werfel died in 1945.
- Verdi (1924)
- Class Reunion (1928)
- The Forty Days of Musa Dagh
Gustav Meyrink (1868 – 1932) – Golem
Gustav Meyrink was born with the name Gustav Meyer in Vienna. He was the illegitimate son of Baron Karl von Varnbüler and actress Maria Wilhelmina Adelheyd Meier. In 1915 the first and most famous of Meyrink’s novels, The Golem, was published. The novel is based on the Jewish legend of a Rabbi who made a living being known as a golem made out of clay, and animated by a Kabbalistic spell. Meyrink has been described as the “most respected German language writer in the field of supernatural fiction”.
Jaroslav Hašek (1883 – 1923)
Czech humorist, satirist, writer and anarchist, best known for his novel The Good Soldier Švejk, an unfinished collection of farcical incidents around a soldier in World War I and a satire on the ineptitude of authority figures. It has been translated into sixty languages. He also wrote some 1,500 short stories.
Karel Čapek (1890 – 1938)
Czech writer of the early 20th century best known for his science fiction, including his novel War with the Newts and the play R.U.R where he introduced and made popular the frequently used international word “robot”. The word comes from the expression “robota”, meaning literally “serf labor” or “hard work” in Czech. Through social circles, Čapek developed close relationship with many of the political leaders of Czechoslovakia during the nineteen-twenties and thirties. These included Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, and his son Jan, who would later become foreign secretary and was killed by Communists in a contrived suicide in 1948. Čapek was a regular guest of the “Friday Men”, a discussion club of the Czech intellectual elite of the first Republic (1918-1939).
- Talks with T.G. Masaryk
- The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos), the celebrated opera by Leoš Janáček is based on the play
- The Absolute at Large
Čapek’s travel books:
- Letters from Italy
- Letters from England
- Letters from Spain
- Letters from Holland
- Travels in the North
Jiří Weil (1950 – 1959)
Czech writer and translator noted for two novels Life with a Star and Mendelssohn Is on the Roof about the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Prague during World War II.
Arnost Lustig (1926 – 2011)
A survivor of the Nazi-era Terezín concentration camp and author of many works, including Street of Lost Brothers, shared the 1991 Publishers Weekly Award for best literary work with John Updike and Norman Mailer.
- A Prayer For Katerina Horowitz
- Dita Saxova
- Night and Hope
- Lovely Green Eye
Bohumil Hrabal (1914 – 1997)
Among other books, Hrabal wrote two internationally acclaimed hits: Closely Watched Trains (also translated as Closely Observed Trains, on which the Menzel film was based), and I Served the King of England. When then-President Bill Clinton visited Prague in 1994, he asked to have a beer with Hrabal in the author’s favorite Old Town haunt, the pub U Zlatého tygra (At the Golden Tiger).
Milan Kundera (1929)
Kundera, of Czech origin, has lived in exile in France since 1975 and became a naturalized citizen in 1981. Kundera’s best-known works are The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Joke. His books were banned by the Communist regimes of Czechoslovakia until the downfall of the regime in the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Kundera’s father was studying music at Leoš Janáček, was an important Czech musicologist and pianist who served as the head of the Janáček Music Academy in Brno from 1948 to 1961.
Miloš Urban (1967)
The Seven Churches
Written in the spirit of the sensational murder story and combined with a rich Gothic atmosphere, this tale, now translated into 11 languages, traces the steps of a killer through the seven cathedrals of modern day Prague. The narrator, a policeman known simply as K, witnesses a bizarre accident followed by a series of mysterious murders. This event triggers a series of meetings with Gothic characters who appear to be trying to reconstruct the medieval “golden age” of Prague in the reign of Charles IV under the noses if its modern-day inhabitants. The book‘s bloody and nightmarish plot will dazzle readers of thrillers, but ultimately the novel is much more—it’s a brilliant postmodern interpretation of the historical topography of late-medieval Prague and a vision of a civilization in decline.
and a wonderful book about Brno and Vila Tugendhat
Simon Mawer – The Glass Room
Angelo Maria Ripellino – The Magic Prague