Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Amusingly, critics have cited both Phillips's "compassion" for his
characters and his "lack of compassion" for his characters. Which, if either, of
these assessments seems accurate to you? Does an author's compassion for his or
her characters matter to your experience of reading a story? Should an author
implicitly or explicitly pass judgment or reserve judgment on the characters?
Should he or she make clear to the reader which characters are admirable and
which are not?
How do you feel Part II (The Horváth Kiadó), the subplot detailing the
history of a Hungarian publishing house, fits into the structure of Prague? What
function does it serve the novel as a whole? What is gained or lost by its
placement immediately after the stories introduced in Part I (First
At the end of the novel, journalist John Price, arguably the central
character of the novel, is en route to the city of Prague. What do you think
becomes of him there and afterward?
The title of the book is a subject of much discussion. While John is the
only main character who aspires to the literal Prague, how do other characters
reveal their longing for other places, times, and lives, for a metaphorical
"Prague"? Which, if any, of the characters seem to be most at peace in their
Did Charles Gábor, the American who invests in the Horváth Press, behave
badly? How? If so, what should he have done instead? If he behaved badly, did he
know it? What do you think the Horváth Press represents? Is its absorption by
Multinational Median a loss?
What does history mean to the novel's characters? How does it shape their
personalities and actions? Do you believe in a "national character"? How much of
an individual's personality do you think is dictated by it? How does the impact
of characters' family history compare to the impact of their national history?
Charles Gábor says intentionally offensive things to other characters,
both in rounds of the game Sincerity and in general conversation. John Price's
columns often say the opposite of what he feels. Nádja's stories are often
loosely inspired by the lives of her listeners. How else does the concept of
irony operate in this novel? In what ways can irony be harmful? Why do certain
characters use it, and how? Who is the best liar in the novel?
Phillips lived in Budapest from 1990 to 1992. Do you think, therefore,
that his novel can be taken as an accurate portrait of that time and place? Can
it be taken as reliable history or sociology? Can any novel? Do you believe
Phillips when he states that his main characters are "entirely fictional"? How
do you think truth is transformed into fiction?
Can "expatriate novels" be considered a genre? If so, what do they have in
common? Does Prague add anything new to this category?
The six expats and Mária are in their twenties. Imre Horváth was in his
twenties during the World War II episodes of Part II. Nádja was in her twenties
in some of her stories. Does something happen to most people's personalities or
attitudes in this period of their lives? How do people view an experience or an
age differently as time separates them from it?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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