Postcards from Absurdistan: Prague at the End of History

Princeton Univ Nov. 2022. 768p. ISBN 9780691185453. $45. HIST
In his third book exploring aspects of Czechoslovakia (after Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History), historian Sayer (emeritus, Univ. of Alberta) relates the history of 20th-century Prague, and through it Czechoslovakia, as it affected its most creative citizens. For two decades after the Great War, Prague was the second capital of modernism in the arts; Paris was ranked first. Then came the Munich Accord of 1938 and the German invasion, and with it, withering suppression. A brief period of independence followed the war, but it ended in 1948 in communist victory and the denial of all heterodoxy. Opposing voices during these decades were systematically quashed. In 1989, Gorbachev’s glasnost led Russia to pull back; a democratically elected government was constituted in Czechoslovakia for the first time in four decades, with artist and freedom fighter Vaclav Havel its president. Sayer tells this story as a string of related narratives of artists’ lives, similar to Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.
VERDICT This is primarily intended for scholars. Not an easy read but good, perhaps even necessary. It should be in every academic library.
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