Monday, August 2, 2021

Prague: Belonging in the Modern City (Chad Bryant)

Chad Bryant's Prague: Belonging in the Modern City takes the stories of five residents of Prague from the past through the present day. These individuals were marginalized within the greater Prague community for various reasons, but all were able to forge their own sense of belonging within the capital city of a nation that for many centuries struggled with its own identity.

Prague has been many things over its history - a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the home of the Kingdom of Bohemia, and eventually a major city within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is where Bryant begins his story, talking about the developing sense of Czech nationalism through the eyes of a guidebook writer and a German-speaking newspaperman. The city convulsed through the era of World Wars I and II, eventually becoming the capital of a communist state that itself struggled with an identity within the greater Warsaw Pact before emerging as the capital of a relatively free democracy in the post-Soviet era. Whether it’s the story of a communist carpenter during the 1920’s, an actress who performed on stage in the Iron Curtain era, or a Czech-speaking Vietnamese blogger, Bryant’s wonderful writing elevates their stories and contributions to Prague.

None of the individuals who are discussed in the book are known to most of us in America; however, they share a common theme of the individual’s struggle to fit in with their city and their country, woven within the tale of a city and even a nation that struggled in its own way to know who it truly was. Both the individuals and the city figured out how to belong despite their struggles. These five individuals’ stories are powerful metaphors for Prague.