Admittedly, I didn't finish this book so keep that in mind with this review. I really tried but eventually it felt like too much of a chore to open it and I gave up at about 300 pages. I feel like I just didn't get it. It gave the impression it has a lot to say about capitalism, culture clashes, and being an American abroad; maybe someone more familiar with philosophy and history would have found something to sink their teeth into. Mostly, I was bored. It was impossible to read more than 20 pages at a time. I had no problems with the prose style and sometimes Crain paints a charming scene, it was just a tedious story. There’s no urgency, intensity, or weight to the protagonist’s situation. Jacob floats from scene to scene without appearing to feel much or care about anything and I was not at all invested in him or his friends. The book is a long string of self-contained scenes: Jacob buys a hamster, Jacob gets a boyfriend, Jacob goes to Berlin, Jacob tutors some Czech children, and so on- you could just cut most of them up and put them in any order without changing the story’s impact. Some of the snapshots do sparkle with real tension or tenderness but most of them seem inane if pleasantly written, with no bearing on each other or the greater arc of the story.
One thing I can say is that I liked the dreamy, almost fantasy-like portrait of Prague. In an interview, Crain quoted another author as saying “Every writer needs a fairyland” – not a Middle Earth or Hogwarts exactly, but some setting that is almost but not quite like the real world. To me and probably to a lot of Americans, Crane’s Prague is certainly that, with its unpredictable food shortages and numerous linguistic quirks. It just wasn’t enough to outweigh the carefully-maintained detachment that colors every character.
If you want to see for yourself, leave a comment and I'll choose one person to receive a copy.