cover image Prague Spring

Prague Spring

Simon Mawer. Other, $17.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-59051-966-0

Mawer sets his inconsistent novel in Czechoslovakia (also the setting of The Glass Room), this time during the brutal suppression by Russia of the country’s failed 1968 counterrevolution. While backpacking across Europe, Oxford students James Borthwick and Ellie Pike stray across the Iron Curtain and fall into the orbit of Prague-based British diplomat Sam Wareham and Czech student activist Lenka Koneckova. James and Ellie, neither particularly charming and both quite unsettled, spar about sex and champagne socialism; meanwhile, the solid, measured Sam becomes smitten with the secretive Lenka as the Soviet threat intensifies and Czech leader Alexander Dubcek’s bold promise of “socialism with a human face” fades. Mawer is marvelous at historical detail, and danger mounts in a way that keeps the pages turning, but though one of the characters falls victim to the violence and disappears, in the end there are no traitors and no real heroes, nor are any moral choices demanded of those who remain. These are love stories, with plenty of sex, set in extreme circumstances. Though the book careens through some awkward dialogue and uneven character development, there are moments of clarity and beauty that readers will savor. (Nov.)