cover image Postcards from Absurdistan: Prague at the End of History

Postcards from Absurdistan: Prague at the End of History

Derek Sayer. Princeton Univ, $45 (768p) ISBN 978-0-691-18545-3

Sayer (Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century), a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Alberta, concludes his trilogy of cultural histories about 20th-century Prague with this intriguing if overstuffed survey of the period between the Nazi takeover in 1938 and the fall of communism in 1989. Covering literature, the graphic arts, music, philosophy, architecture, and photography, Sayer profiles a staggering cast of artists and intellectuals, including architect Antonín Raymond, who spent much of his professional life in Japan, and Austrian Czech journalist Egon Erwin Kisch, who fiercely opposed Adolf Hitler and fled to Mexico after the Nazi invasion. One of the book’s longest and most immersive sections is on Milena Jasenská, who translated Franz Kafka’s stories into Czech and had an intense but “short-lived, mostly epistolary” love affair with him before establishing herself as journalist, joining the Czech resistance during WWII, and dying in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. The book is littered with memorable vignettes, including Kisch learning in Mexico City that his brothers back in Prague have been killed, but Sayer inundates readers with names, dates, and obscure events, and he has a tendency to digress into trivial matters. This is best suited to those with a deep background in the subject. Photos. (Nov.)