Monday 6 May 2019

Book Review: Alice to Prague by Tanya Heaslip (Memoir)

Title: Alice to Prague
Author: Tanya Heaslip
Allen and Unwin

Publication Date: 6 May 2019
Review Copy from Publisher


In 1994, with a battered copy of Let's Go Europe stuffed in her backpack, Tanya Heaslip left her safe life as a lawyer in outback Australia and travelled to the post-communist Czech Republic.

Dismissing concerns from family and friends that her safety and career were at risk, she arrived with no teaching experience whatsoever, to work at a high school in a town she'd never heard of, where the winters are frigid and plunge to sub-zero temperatures.

During her childhood on an isolated cattle station in Central Australia, Tanya had always dreamed of adventure and romance in Europe but the Czech Republic was not the stuff of her dreams. On arrival, however, she falls headlong into misadventures that change her life forever.

This land of castles, history and culture opened up to her and she to it. In love with Prague and her people, particularly with the charismatic Karel, who takes her into his home, his family and as far as he can into his heart, Tanya learns about lives very different to hers.

Alice to Prague is a bittersweet story of a search for identity, belonging and love, set in a time, a place and with a man that fill Tanya's life with contradictions.

Alice to Prague is a compelling tale, not least because it brought back so many memories for me. I first went to Prague about six years after this book is set, and it sounds as if things had really moved on during that period. Nonetheless, I remember my thoughts upon first seeing my pen pal's panelák, and they do echo Tanya's. One of the things I loved most about this was the way the author captured the inflections of a Czech person speaking excellent, but not perfect, English. It was absolutely spot on. Tanya falls in love with Prague the same way I did, though I got on better with the language. I loved the sound of it so much I started to teach myself right after my first visit. I'm not fluent, but I do okay. However, I already spoke French, German and Italian, which does help. Overall, this book was a delight to read. You really feel for Tanya as she goes through her journey and comes to know herself better. There's heartache along the way, but also plenty of humour and fun. Recommended for fans of travel-based memoirs and those interested in the early post-communism years in the Czech Republic. The only thing that would have improved this for me would have been the inclusion of a few photos, to really set the scene and bring the world and people further to life in the reader's mind.

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