Moving to a new city in a new country can be a disorientating experience, as anyone who has lived as an expat will know.
For Australian Rachael Weiss, things were a little easier, at least regarding the practicalities: she had no need to look around for accommodation – perhaps the most stressful thing about setting up in a foreign place – because a flat belonging to her Czech father was ready for her to move into.
But life in the Czech Republic was not always straightforward, as Weiss describes in her memoir of her time in the country, Me, Myself & Prague.
It is not far off a decade since the book was released, yet it shows no sign of disappearing, being on at least its fifth printing and easy to find in Prague’s major bookshops. And there are good reasons why the book has been so popular: Weiss is an excellent writer who has captured her experiences with insight, sympathy, and wit.
She describes well the ups-and-downs of life in a new country, not least when it comes to finding friends (the author notes with candour that she ended up spending time with some people simply because they were there, rather than because she had anything in common with them). Weiss finds a varied cast of characters to meet up with regularly, among them a woman who views her over-the-top love life as an artistic project.
Through the challenges of her social life, Weiss wrestles with the task of trying to write a novel, the key thing she came to Prague to achieve.
She had no nine-to-five routine to anchor her life in the city, so despite having a ready-made place to live, and a friendly band of Czech relatives to see on occasion, her circumstances were not the easiest.
On occasion, she is given to exaggeration – notably when she devotes four pages to a simple visit to the supermarket – but in the main accounts of events are well drawn, and Weiss, fortunately, doesn’t relentlessly play for laughs in the way of some authors.
The title, perhaps suggesting that one-third of its contents are about Prague and the other two-thirds about “Me” and “Myself,” seems well chosen: the book is more centered on Weiss – her day-to-day experiences and her reflections on her life – than it is about the city where she is located. But this is no bad thing when the material is this engaging.
Chapters towards the end particularly stand out. Her trip with a male friend (who became more than just a friend) to the spa town of Marienbad was skilfully described, although some might be a little taken aback by Weiss’s frankness regarding her personal life.
A visit to Terezín can be chilling for anyone, but for Weiss all the more so because members of her Jewish family were there during the period of Nazi occupation. Weiss’s account of her trip forms the most powerful section of the book.
Two years ago, Weiss released a second book about her adventures in the Czech Republic entitled The Thing About Prague. On the strength of her beautifully crafted first Prague memoir, it should be well worth reading.
– Me, Myself & Prague is published by Allen & Unwin