We gave it a B
Arthur Phillips’ first novel, Prague, is so thoroughly bittersweet that its title describes not the setting, but the supposed paradise its expat characters haven’t reached. John Price — his brain a goulash of cynicism and naïveté — sits in a Budapest cafe with four other young transplants and proclaims, ”Fifteen years from now people will talk about all the amazing American artists and thinkers who lived in Prague in the 1990s. That’s where real life is going on right now, not here.” Price’s friends include a scholar expanding his dissertation on the history of nostalgia, a venture capitalist scheming to resurrect a venerable publishing house, and an ancient Hungarian woman who reels off droll tales of totalitarian horrors. While Phillips displays startling talents for metaphor and comic description, his cloying tone is variously grating and apt. What else to expect from a riff on Americans claiming the spoils of the Cold War by remaking the Old World as a frontier?