SINCE ITS GREAT years as capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Prague has experienced all the ways in which a city can decline without dying. It has been home to some of the greatest scientists, artists, musicians and writers of modern times, even while being more or less continuously under foreign, or at any rate alien, occupation. The explanation for this lies in the Czech genius for conceding defeat, which has many times spared Prague from destruction. The only serious attempt by the Czechs to defend their capital took place outside Prague on the %te Mountain in 1620: losing the battle, they lost their nationality; but they did not lose their city. It was the same story in 1938, 1948 and 1968. These more recent occupations have added nothing to the physical beauty of the city; but they have not destroyed it either, and it is partly thanks to alien occupation that the city has acquired, in recent times, its unique spiritual aura. Those who visited Prague during the Communist years were granted the vision of a people oppressed by a diabolical nihilism whde living in the fairy-tale architecture of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It was as though the soul had been driven &m the human shapes that patrolled and queued in the streets, to take rehge among caryatids, pinnacles and domes.
Follow Literary Review on Twitter
'The identification of a mighty force sparkling intermittently seems to me to constitute the finest and most consistent poetic achievement of Goudie’s book.'
Candia McWilliam on @lachlangoudie's 'The Story of Scottish Art'.
Though 'the hotel had a reputation as the area’s best, its staff were not used to looking after world leaders, so the arrival of Cuba’s new strongman, Fidel Castro, came as something of a shock.'
@dcsandbrook on @simonhallwriter's 'Ten Days in Harlem'.
'After all, who knows what anybody is really like, or what they really think? The biographer – same as a painter of portraits – cannot help but reproduce himself to some degree.'
From the archive: Beryl Bainbridge talks to Sebastian Shakespeare.