17 Collections of Short Stories and Essays with a Strong Sense of Place

17 Collections of Short Stories and Essays with a Strong Sense of Place

Monday, 16 January, 2023

We love a good door-stopper novel. There’s something so satisfying about spending a few weeks with a cast of characters in another time and place. But we’re also very happy readers when that same magic is applied to short stories.

If an epic tome is a bottomless bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, short stories and essays are like tapas: complete, creative, compelling, and satisfying.

You’re sure to find something to suit you among these recommendations that are set all over the world and include genre tales — horror, folklore, food, and more. All of them moved us and introduced us to people we’d be happy to know and places we long to visit.



That Old Country Music - Kevin Barry

That Old Country Music
> Kevin Barry

The stories in this collection tell tales of longing and home and the complicated simplicity of country life. Mostly set in western Ireland, they’re like prose poetry, photographs crafted with precise words rather than light and pixels.

The stars of these 11 stories are loners and oddballs. They’re like no one we’ve met before, but Kevin Barry’s writing lets us know them quickly and intimately. In the poignant first story, ‘The Coast of Leitrim,’ we meet 35-year-old Seamus, a man with ‘the misfortune in life to be fastidious and to own a delicacy of feeling. He drank wine rather than beer and favored French films.’ We know immediately how adrift he must feel in his small town and how that town might feel about him. He falls helplessly in love with the Polish girl who works at his local café, and the human foibles and frailty unfold from. Seamus thinks he can ‘handle just about anything, shy of a happy outcome.’

In the other stories, we get to know a young girl who’s just beginning to explore her sexual power — and another young woman caught up in a messy romantic entanglement, only to be rescued by her mum’s love and forgiveness.

These stories flow from a part of the world with a long memory. It can be hard to escape the past or make a different future. Barry is a master of scene-setting, arranging just the right words in just the right way, so we feel the breeze roll off the hills, smell the salt in the air, connect with the old Irish soil under the characters’ feet. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Ireland episode of our podcast.

His cottage looked across a bog to the Bluestack Mountains; the ocean was nearby, unseen but palpable. There were huge granite boulders around the fields, as if giants had been tossing them about for sport. The ocean hissed at the edges of the scene like a busy gossip. There was salt on the air and the local cars wore coats of rust. I felt somehow a little hardier and tougher in myself as I looked out from the doorway of the place. — Kevin Barry



The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories - Anthony Marra

The Tsar of Love and Techno
> Anthony Marra

This collection of interconnected short stories features remarkable characters, examines big life stuff (family, sacrifice, war, and art), and hinges on a carefully-curated mixtape that travels through time.

The first story is set in Leningrad in 1937. In an unfinished train tunnel, a lone censor removes images of traitors from photographs. The collection ends with a Russian floating in a space capsule — date unknown. As he drifts past Pluto, he listens to a vintage cassette tape.

In between these two tales, we’re taken on a journey through 75 years of Russian history alongside the ordinary, extraordinary people who populate the Russian city of Kirovsk: a prima ballerina, former gulag prisoners, Miss Siberia and Russia’s 14th wealthiest man, contract soldiers, a techno music fanatic, a museum curator.

Charming, biting, humorous, and poignant, these stories are a unique way to understand the broad strokes of Russian history — the early Soviet Union, pre- and post-Communism, Glasnost — through the very human experiences of day-to-day life. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Russia episode of our podcast.

For my first year, I combed the shelves of libraries with the most recently expanded edition of Summary List of Books Excluded from Libraries and the Book Trade Network, searching for images of newly disgraced officials. This should be a librarian’s job, of course, but you can’t trust people who read that much. — Anthony Marra


Rural England

Help the Witch - Tom Cox

Help the Witch
> Tom Cox

Everything Tom Cox writes has an urgency about it — as if the words flow unbidden and uninterrupted. But the details are so telling, the observation so shrewd, the words cannot be accidental. When he describes a tree, a hill, a storm, or a bracing swim in the ocean, you feel the tree bark, the grass, the wind, and the chill.

Cox is probably best known for writing books about cats that are not really about cats. His nonfiction narratives tackle the big stuff of life — love, death, magic, fear, history, family — by introducing us to all-too-human and feline characters and taking us into their day-to-day adventures.

These stories will transport you directly to the heart of central England’s Peak District. He draws on his affection for folklore, and he uses the tools of nature writing to explore the shadowy depths of this house and just what might be under that tree. The stories are gauzy and shimmery and all-together affecting. The title story is a first-person account that places us in the room with the narrator, who finds himself in a very scary situation indeed. {more}

The energy crash is finally happening. Last night, I saw the pepper mill move eight inches, all of its own volition. I could barely eat the mushroom risotto I made for myself without falling face first into it. Afterwards, I yanked my top half into bed, my legs following several yards afterwards, and heard the ghost cat make a new noise… — Tom Cox, ‘Help the Witch’



Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime - Rob Hart

> Rob Hart

Author Rob Hart knows his way around the darker alleys of the human psyche. He’s best known for his Ash McKenna detective series and the chilling (and wildly entertaining) near-future dystopian thriller The Warehouse.

In this story collection, he further explores the intersection of human foibles, illicit motives, and humor — while also serving up plenty of tempting plates of grub. Each installment is a sharply detailed, bite-sized world, like a novel that’s been simmered and reduced just right. The characters are multifaceted, the settings are vividly rendered, the atmosphere is thick with aromas and smoke and deception.

Our favorite story, ‘Have you eaten?’ is a slightly sinister celebration of street food in Singapore’s Chinatown. In it, our hero waxes poetic about his favorite eats at hole-in-the-wall joints around the world while tucking into char kway teow (‘…rice noodles and Chinese sausage and blood cockles. There were crisp cubes of pork lard, too…) and Hainanese chicken rice (‘…boiled chicken, served with a sauce, then the rice is cooked in ginger and chicken fat’).

In the title story, a gambler makes suspicious deliveries to work off his debt to a Chinatown gambling parlor; just what is in those white take-out boxes, anyway? ‘How to Make the Perfect New York Bagel’ is a snapshot of shakedowns, enduring friendship, and the savory satisfaction of well-timed payback. {more}

New York’s restaurant scene is surmountable only to the smartest, the most talented, the most willing. This is a city where a week’s salary will buy you a meal at Per Se and a handful of crumbled bills will buy you a meal at a filthy stall in Chinatown, and you’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite between the two. — Rob Hart



Haunted Voices: An Anthology of Gothic Storytelling From Scotland - Rebecca Wojturska

Haunted Voices
> Rebecca Wojturska

This enthralling collection of gothic tales celebrates Scotland’s rich tradition of oral storytelling. It’s available in print, ebook, and audio — and we 100-percent advocate for the audiobook. It features both archival recordings and new performances that will cause delicious little tingles up the back of your neck.

Soulmates, told by Gavin Inglis, is a bittersweet story about a goth couple who frequent the paths of Greyfriars Kirkyard (a historical cemetery in Edinburgh) and a love that will not die. When you listen to the The Stolen Winding Sheet by Fran Flett Hollinrake, you will feel the wind and rain of the storm on your face.

Throughout the 27 stories, you’ll encounter shadowy demons, ephemeral ghosts, mysterious shapes in the darkness, undying love, wry humor, dramatic weather, poor decisions, well-deserved comeuppances, and the other elements that make Gothic stories so jubilantly dark and unsettling. The vocal performances are seductive and immersive, with an urgency and intimacy that can only be found when one human tells a story to another. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Scotland episode of our podcast.

He was sitting in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard at sunrise, watching mud creep up the cover of Descartes’ Passions of the Soul and wondering if it would be too much of a cliché to throw himself off North Bridge. She came past in clumpy boots and a velvet skirt, took her headphones out and yelled at him for letting a library book get stained. After that they were friends. — Gavin Inglis, ‘Soulmates’


New Zealand

Can You Tolerate This?: Essays - Ashleigh Young

Can You Tolerate This?
> Ashleigh Young

Ashleigh Young was born and raised Te Kuiti, a town of 5000 on New Zealand’s North Island and the ‘Sheep Shearing Capital of the World.’ Her essays, read together in a rush inspired by their urgency and lyricism, form a coming-of-age story that’s both personal and universally affecting.

In one essay, we meet the chiropractor who’s routine question Can you tolerate this? inspired the book’s title. It’s a heartrending piece of writing about egoism and the now. Equally moving is the story about her brother’s music career and the punk rock scene in their hometown. There are also tales of Japanese shut-ins, a French postman who crafted a stone fortress by hand, teenage yearning for Paul McCartney, falling in and out of love, and the double-edged sword of self-improvement projects — all set against the backdrop of New Zealand’s beauty and isolation.

Young is both a poet and an essayist. If you’d like to meet a New Zealander with whom you could become fast friends, this book is a fantastic place to start. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the New Zealand episode of our podcast.

Was there any story I could tell that was truly certain? Write your way toward an understanding, a tutor had told me in a creative writing class during my third year of university. But what if you went backward and wrote yourself away from the understanding? Was it better than never to have started at all? If you were uncertain, should you make the understanding up - construct a meaningful-sounding statement so that your reader wouldn’t feel that you’d strung them along, wasted their time? — Ashleigh Young



> Leah Hampton

These are tales about sex and death and being human and the collapse of the environment — all set in post-coal Appalachia — will stop you in your tracks.

Author Leah Hampton said of the assertive title of her literary debut, ‘If I’m going to be 46 years old when my first book comes out, y’all are going to know the name.’ The stuff inside the covers of her book is worthy of the attention. Her characters are park rangers and GameStop employees and rural firefighters. They wrestle with family trouble and health issues and loneliness and desire.

Some of the stories are funny; most will make you wince at least once. All of them will transport you directly to the Blue Ridge mountains.

The title story is worth the price of admission — it will stomp all over your heart and then take up residence in it. Exhibit A to back up this assertion: The first line. ‘Nothing’ll ever fix what’s broken in this town, but it would be nice if they’d at least get the dead bear out of the parking lot at Food Company.’

It goes on very effectively from there. The narrator is a young queer woman living a sheltered life in a small town. Her name is Pretty, and she works in the grocery store while nursing a crush on her friend Jamie. Jamie is leaving town for Asheville — which they call ‘hippietown’ — and is trying to convince Pretty to move with her. As she’s making her sales pitch for why the city could be a good move, she says, encouragingly, ‘Girl, you could be out and proud.’ Pretty picks at a scab on her ‘fat knuckle’ and shrugs. ‘Proud of what?’


Another story ‘Sparkle’ features a ‘cotton-candy-pink ticket booth,’ a water park next to Dollywood, and a near-mythological promise of seeing Ms. Dolly Parton in the flesh.

This book was named a Best Book of 2020 by The Paris Review, the New York Public Library, Slate, and others. It’s easy to see why. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Appalachia episode of our podcast.

Inside the cotton-candy-pink ticket booth, Mavis — that’s what her name tag said — shifted her ample, cardiganed breasts off the counter and looked out the customer window to see if there was anybody behind us.

‘Now, it’s not her usual thing,’ said Mavis when she’d decided we were alone. ‘But.’

Behind me, James tensed. I figured it was going to be some kind of sales pitch for Splash Country, the water park next to Dollywood. James and I did not want to go to Splash Country. It was November, and it was raining. Mavis looked me square in the face.

‘Bu-ut’ — Mavis dropped her twang to an emphysemal whisper — ‘Dolly … is in the park today.’ She twitched her mouth and pursed it to the side, satisfied with herself, then placed her hands primly on the cotton candy windowsill.

‘No shit,’ I said.

‘Oh, yes, ma’m,’ said Mavis. Her hands went pat, pat, softly. — Leah Hampton



An American Childhood - Annie Dillard

An American Childhood
> Annie Dillard

The sentences crackle with energy in Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard’s memoir of growing in 1950s Pittsburgh. Buckle up for a rollicking trip through her childhood with writing so good, it might make you nostalgic for your own hometown.

Dillard’s powers of observation and recall — and, perhaps, imagination — are shocking. She nails what it’s like to be a child of five and 10 and 15. To feel the wonder and fear and beauty of waking up to the world.

Constructed as a series of sort-of essays, this book invites you to dip in and out, spending time with young Annie as she explores the external world and her internal landscape. She takes us to the Pittsburgh of her childhood and its vibrant downtown, and into her fantasies about the French and Indian War, her fascination for drawing, and her fervent, passing interests in rocks, bugs, and the French symbolists.

Her memoir is the story of an all-American girl, growing up mid-20th century — and the making of an award-winning writer who would charm the world with her words. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Chicago episode of our podcast.

Now we sat in the dark dining room, hushed. The big snow outside, the big snow on the roof, silenced our words and the scrape of our forks and our chairs. The dog was gone, the world outside was dangerously cold, and the big snow held the houses down and the people in. Behind me, tall chilled windows gave out onto the narrow front yard and the street. A motion must have caught my mother’s eye; she rose and moved to the windows, and father and I followed. There we saw the young girl, the transfigured Jo Ann Sheehy, skating along under the streetlight. She was turning on ice skates inside the streetlight’s yellow cone of light — illuminated and silent. She tilted and spun… Distant over the street, the night sky was moonless and foreign, a frail, bottomless black, and the cold stars speckled it without moving. — Annie Dillard



This is Paradise - Kristiana Kahakauwila

This Is Paradise
> Kristiana Kahakauwila

This remarkable story collection will transport you to Maui, Oahu, Kaua’i, and the Big Island. Sure, the islands can be a vacation paradise, but for the people who live there year-round, it’s simply home — the place they work, love, struggle, survive, and triumph.

Author Kristiana Kahakauwila is a hapa writer of native Hawaiian, German, and Norwegian descent. She brings a seriousness of purpose and undeniable warmth to her stories. She also possesses a magical gift for describing the version of Hawaii that natives experience in their everyday lives without losing the wonder of the place. It’s a neat trick to make something seem familiar and extraordinary at the same time.

The story ‘Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game’ is a standout; it’s worth the book’s purchase price for this story alone. Told in the form of a bleakly funny, gut-wrenching list, it’s a portrait of Hawaiian family and tradition set at a grandmother’s funeral.

The story begins with a simple, incisive, dark-as-pitch rule:

1. Take a drink each time the haole pastor says hell.

2. Take a drink each time he asks if anybody in the room wants to go there.

3. Take a drink each time he looks at one of your uncles when he says this.

As the story unfolds, the items on the list grow longer and more involved, increasingly more poignant, weaving in family history and food and the awkward, nothing-to-do-but-laugh truths that come up at a funeral.

We won’t spoil the ending, but number 39 is well worth the trip. This is a beautiful story, very well told.

All of the stories address universal themes, but they arise out of things that are specifically Hawaiian. Kahakauwila is a compassionate tour guide as she explores the beauty and heartache underneath the allure of paradise. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Hawaii episode of our podcast.

We pause outside the Banyan Hotel, the warm light from the lobby casting our shadows across the water’s edge. The tide sucks at the sand beneath our toes like a vacuum. We look into the hotel, and we can almost understand why here, in Waikīkī, the world appears perfect. The hotel lobbies are brimming with flower arrangements and sticky with the scent of ginger. The island air is warm and heavy as a blanket. And the people are beautiful. Tan and healthy, with muscles carved from koa wood and cheeks the color of strawberry guava. These people — our people — look fresh as cut fruit, ready to be caressed, to be admired. These are people to be trusted. This is not New York or Los Angeles. No, Hawaiʻi is heaven. A dream. — Kristiana Kahakauwila



The Last Storytellers - Richard Hamilton

The Last Storytellers
> Richard Hamilton

For a thousand years, professional storytellers, known as hlaykia, have told their tales in Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakech, Morocco. But this art form is slowing fading, replaced by TV, movie, and the internet. In 2006, journalist Richard Hamilton traveled to Marrakech for the BBC. While there, he interviewed the storytellers — ‘without exception, elderly men at the end of their career’ — about their art form. Then for three years, he tracked down more and more of these artisans to document their stories, translating from the original Darija (Moroccan dialect) to English.

This collection of 37 tales dives deep into folklore with murder, mystery, and magic. There are evil relatives and animals that talk and creatures that transform from one thing to another. There are happy endings and tragic finales. Like the Western tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales, these stories are filled with morality lessons in which characters get their due, both for ill and for good.

With this book, Hamilton beautifully captures these stories so they can live on for at least another thousand years. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Morocco episode of our podcast.

When I first arrived in Marrakesh, it felt more like 1006; it seemed to be somewhere that had not changed for a thousand years… There are rich and poor, merchants and mad men, beggars and thieves, travelers and tarts, hustlers and holy men, dark-eyed beauties and disfigured cripples, and they all swirl around the giant plug hole that is the main square of Marrakesh. — Richard Hamilton


Secret Passages

Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet - Will Hunt

> Will Hunt

This collection of essays about the world beneath our feet is nonfiction fireworks, packed with one remarkable revelation after another. With infectious enthusiasm and a voice that deftly juggles science and wonder, author Will Hunt will take you underground into sacred caves, derelict subway stations, nuclear bunkers, and ancient underground cities.

The book opens with his origin story, an anecdote that shows how he became so attuned to what mysterious underground spaces mean to us, physically and emotionally.

As a kid in Providence, Rhode Island, Hunt learned from a teacher about an abandoned underground tunnel nearby. He went looking for that tunnel and just never stopped. In subsequent chapters, he shares the story of a group that traversed Paris entirely underground. He explores how some cultures deify the spaces underground; in the Bolivian Andes, we learn about what the locals call ‘the mountain that eats men.’ He examines the significance of 14,000-year-old cave drawings and tells a story that proves Pythagoras was more than his geometry theorem.

If you’re not intrigued and entertained by a book that’s filled with fantastic photos and celebrates illegal parties in Paris and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, perhaps you need to reexamine your priorities. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Secret Passages episode of our podcast.

The doors on the underworld kingdom blew open in 1994, when a young biologist from New Mexico named Penny Boston climbed down to the very bottom of Lechuguilla Cave, two thousand feet underground. It was an environment, she said, ‘as close as you can get to traveling to another planet without actually leaving earth’ — far too remote to support even the hardiest troglobite, or any other living creature. But at one point, Boston was scrutinizing a furry, brown geological growth on the ceiling of a cave passage, when a drip of water plopped directly into her eye. Boston was amazed to find that her eye puffed up and swelled shut. It could only have meant one thing: she had been infected by bacteria, by tiny microorganisms living in the cave’s depths, far deeper underground than anyone imagined possible. — Will Hunt


Costa Rica

Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion - Barbara Ras

Costa Rica
> Barbara Ras, Oscar Arias

The 26 short stories in this compelling collection — written in Spanish by 20th-century Costa Rican authors and beautifully translated — are arranged by geography. When read in order, they’ll take you on a literary journey from the north near Nicaragua, then head to the capital region of San Jose. Next, you’re off to the sunny beaches of both coasts to end your trip at the southern border.

In the standout mini-thriller She Wore a Bikini by Alfonso Chase (translated by Leland H. Chambers), the beautiful and mysterious Adelita Gonzalez goes missing. As the unnamed (and sympathetic) narrator explains, ‘no death notice has come out because the family isn’t certain whether she has been drowned, kidnapped, or murdered, since her body has never appeared. It seems that she spent those days writing in a notebook that has never been found…’

There are also stories laced with magical realism, literary meditations, fairy tales and fables, revenge plots, and 19th-century morality tales. The common thread? Vividly rendered settings that place you firmly in the jungles, villages, cities, and beaches of Costa Rica — against which family drama, history, colonialism, and daily life unfold. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Costa Rica episode of our podcast.

After we pass the city of Bagaces, we will arrive in Liberia, the White City, so called because in the past it was paved with limestone gravel, of which now barely a trace remains. But in point of fact, I must tell you this: our mothers and grandmothers recount that at night, in the moonlight, the city appeared completely white and luminous, and such was its brightness that you could read in the middle of the night without electric lights. Mystery Stone, Rima de Vallbona (translated by Barbara Paschke)



The Whale and the Cupcake - Julia O’Malley

The Whale and the Cupcake
> Julia O'Malley

Fresh-picked salmonberries and spam sushi. River-to-table salmon fillets and box cakes gussied up with rum. Vietnamese Pho and muktuk and eider duck and pilot bread. The foods eaten every day by Alaskans are a delicious dichotomy of fresh-from-the-land and shelf-stable.

By the time you’ve finished reading this collection of essays, you’ll feel like you’ve gone on a road trip to Alaska’s cities and villages, meeting quirky, smart, interesting people and eating a whole bunch of really good stuff along the way. The interviews, personal stories, and photos of home cooks, restaurateurs, grocery store workers, and farmers clearly illustrate how food matters to Alaskans in a fundamental way. Most of the year is spent preparing — mentally and physically — for the scarcity of winter.

James Beard Award-winning journalist Julia O’Malley is a third-generation Alaskan, and her story about subsistence whale hunting in the Siberian Yup’ik village of Gambell was included in The Best American Food Writing 2018. She writes with obvious affection and restraint about the food culture of the 49th state. Fair warning: It will give you an appetite for king crab that tastes of the Bering Sea and homesickness for a place you’ve never been. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Alaska episode of our podcast.

Sure, Californians might love the avocado they picked from a backyard tree the way Texans love their barbecue or New Yorkers celebrate apple cider in the fall, but that love cannot compare to Alaskan food sacraments like picking blueberries from a mountainside, carrying a bowl of moose broth to a family member stuck in the Alaska Native Hospital, or having a whole king eider sea duck in the freezer. — Julia O’Malley

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska - Heather Lende

Ninety miles north of Juneau, Alaska, is the tiny town of Haines. You don’t drive to Haines; it’s boat or plane, only. It’s devastatingly beautiful. And for 30 years, writer Heather Lende has called it home. This is her love letter to the landscape and the people in her town.

A few things to know about Haines: It’s accessible only when the weather is amenable to water and air travel. There’s no traffic light, nor mail delivery. And because it’s in Alaska, a wilderness of everyday danger, people can — and do — disappear without a trace on a disturbingly regular basis.

As our guide, Lende introduces us to the characters of Haines, present and past, and we learn their stories. It’s all ordinary and unforgettable, impactful stuff — the good and bad and tough and transcendent business of living life in one of the most remote areas in the States. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Alaska episode of our podcast.

Our senior member is Maisie Jones, a widow who has an English accent. She always dresses up and sometimes wears a hat to church. When I had knee surgery, Maisie took the opportunity to get me acquainted with opera. She lent me videos of Carmen and La Bohème and them came over and watched them with me, just to make sure I understood the story lines. — Heather Lende



Prague Noir - Pavel Mandys

Prague Noir
> Pavel Mandys

We love these hard-boiled detective stories, suspenseful yarns, and classic detective tales. Set in all of the neighborhoods of Prague, they highlight the darker side of Prague.

These are Czech stories written by Czech authors, so you get a strong sense of the Czech outlook on life. Spoiler: It’s darker than black shoe polish.

The stories are arranged thematically: crime teams, magical Prague and the supernatural, shadows of the past. Each category delves into Prague history, culture, and customs through the eyes of the marginalized — criminals, cops, informers, witnesses, and victims.

In ‘The Dead Girl from a Haunted House,’ a cynical private detective is hired by the patriarch of a carnival family to investigate a murder: a girl died in the haunted house at the carnival on the Prague exhibition grounds. Other stories reference the Golem, fortune tellers, modern drug dealers, and the conflict between old-school cops and modern technology. {more}

Hear Mel talk about this book in the Prague episode of our podcast.

I watched Arnold’s scarred hand, bigger than that of the brown coal digger in the Mostecká Basin. It was scratched and scuffed like the hands of all carnival and circus men. These guys build their autodromes and centrifuges and circus tents and merry-go-rounds in rain and sleet. Their hands are as scarred as their souls. — Jiří W. Procházka, The Dead Girl from a Haunted House

Prague: A Cultural and Literary History - Richard D.E. Burton

> Richard D.E. Burton

This essay collection offers a completely different approach to traveling in Prague. Rather than photos and sightseeing logistics, it explores the significance and history of various facets of Czech culture.

Written with intelligence and insight, it delves into Jewish history in Prague (including the legend of the golem), Vyšehrad castle, the legacy of Franz Kafka, Czech theater and music, the significance of the architecture, life under Communism, the drama of the Velvet Revolution, and more.

You can enjoy this book without ever setting foot in Prague, and if (when?) you do visit, these essays will deepen your understanding of must-see spots like Prague Castle, the National Theater, Wenceslas Square, and more. There’s also a useful overview of Prague’s neighborhoods and a Czech pronunciation guide ‘for the faint-hearted.’ {more}

Visible from everywhere during the day, and now also dramatically floodlit at night, the cathedral and castle haunt the imagination of Prague… — Richard D.E. Burton

Gottland - Mariusz Szczygieł

> Mariusz Szczygieł

Polish investigative journalist Mariusz Szczygieł wanted to explore everything that the Czech Republic is and has been. This compelling collection of essays about fascinating Czechs is the un-put-downable result. The first essay is about the Bata family, and it sets the tone for the entire book. Written in short one- to four-paragraph chunks, it tells the made-for-a-movie story of a legendary Czech shoe-making family.

You’ll also meet other remarkable Czech citizens: Lida Baarova, who was the mistress of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Gobbels. Jaroslava Moserova, an expert in skin grafting and a translator who adapted 44 Dick Francis mystery novels from English to Czech. And Karel Gott, the Slavic answer to Elvis Presley.

Engaging, humorous, and surprisingly moving, this is one of those ‘Can I read this to you?’ books in which you discover bits so shocking or well-written, you need to read them aloud to someone else. {more}

Hear Dave talk about this book in the Prague episode of our podcast.

This we know: in order to survive in unfavorable circumstances, a small nation has to adapt. — Mariusz Szczygieł

Top image courtesy of Clay Banks/Unsplash.

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