Prague is the magic capital of Europe. Since the days of Emperor Rudolf II, ” devotee of the stars and cultivator of the spagyric art”, who in the. Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City (Writer and the City.) [John Banville] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The fourth book in. Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City (Writer and the City) [John Banville] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Prague is the magic capital of.

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It is entirely appropriate that John Banville described Prague before he ever went there. All cities, to some extent, live mostly in our heads, but the Czech banvilld often seems entirely an imaginative construct.

Observer review: Prague Pictures by John Banville | Books | The Guardian

In his novel, Kepler ofBanville alchemised brilliantly the city of the seventeenth century out of scraps and fragments of research. For that book, he mentally wandered the ill-lit alleyways that were the labyrinthine dystopia of Rudolf II, the enlightened, insane Holy Roman Emperor who shut himself in the adamantine castle, Hradcany, that broods above the River Vltava, and surrounded himself with artists and artisans, banfille and necromancers. It was not until a couple pratue years later that Banville could inspect the veracity of his creation at first hand.

At that time, Prague was still greatcoated in the Cold War.

The author visited in winter and found that, despite the frigid greyness of Soviet-backed authority, the city of his imagining still could present itself glittering and intact. On his first morning, he walked out from his concrete-and-glass hotel, with its lobby full of prostitutes and black-marketeers, and stood in the frosted light on Charles Bridge and saw the exact mirror of a place he had once closed his eyes to see at his typewriter.


His guide on that first visit was a professor, who took him to the city’s literary drinking dens in the vain hope of spotting Josef Skvorecky or Bohumil Hrabel, who introduced him to the infinite variety of dumplings which were the glutinous staple of the Bohemian diet, and who, one night after supper, produced a packet of black-and-white photographs which were to colour Banville’s vision of the city for ever.

The bangille were the work of Josef Sudek, one of Prague’s great obsessives – no other city seems so to hoard hoarders – who, after he lost his arm in the First World War, devoted himself to a lifelong study of the texture of Prague’s light, as captured on an ancient Kodak panoramic camera.

Prague Pictures

For Banville, Sudek’s pictures, taken in empty squares and cathedral crypts and windswept cemeteries made the imaginary city real. On that first visit, Banville literally secreted this vision about his person, smuggling some of Sudek’s original prints past the border guards to give to the professor’s son in New York. The son wanted his father to leave the then oppressed city of his birth and make a new life in the West.

The photographs were the most articulate expression the professor could find of why he felt he had to stay. Over the years, Banville has collected many such intimate histories in Prague: This little, impressionistic book, which records these stories, is part of a distinguished series that also includes Peter Carey’s unravelling of Sydney and Edmund White’s love affair with Paris.

Review: Prague Pictures by John Banville | Books | The Guardian

At times, Banville sounds a little like WG Sebald with a Dublin brogue, sifting the boneyards of European conflict, pyschoanalysing the tracery of empires past. In many respects, his observations, brought up to date at the writers’ conferences and tourist traps that characterise the contemporary city, make a perfect companion volume to Angelo Maria Ripellino’s wild and whirling biography of the place, Magic Prague, think Peter Ackroyd on absintheto which he acknowledges a debt of gratitiude.


I remember several banvilel ago writing a far more modest guide to the city than Banville’s, tramping through the starlit snow for a week, mostly on a pilgrimage from one Pilsner to the next, with Ripellino’s book either in my pocket or open on a bar-room table. Strangely, the more perfect Czech beer one banviole – served always, as my imagination remembers, from a single pump on a simple table in the centre of the room as if an elixir – the more magical, and apparently human, a presence the city exerted.

Prague Nights by Benjamin Black review – murder in the city of masks

Kafka, no stranger to the hostelries around Wenceslas Square and author, in Metamorphosis, of the greatest ever cautionary hangover tale: His journals are full of anxiety about the uncanny anthropomorphism of the place – ‘sad, nervous, physically unwell, fear of Prague’. For the visitor, walking up to the castle on a winter’s night, say, passing students snogging beside the carved saints on Charles Bridge, the last soul in the world, this sense of the city as a living thing can be intoxicating.

When he was younger, Banville notes, he believed that really to get under the skin of a city one had to fall in love there.

Prague, promiscuous and secretive, appears to have offered him another possibility. To understand a little more of himself, he first had to fall in love with a city. Topics Books The Observer.

John Banville Travel writing reviews.