This book attempts to go beyond the tourist cliché of Prague as the ‘golden city’ to bring out all the mystery, ambiguity, gloom, lethargy and hidden fascination of the city on the Vltava. Ripellino slips into the style of melodrama and ghost stories as he writes of the time of Rudolf II, the alchemists, the Jewish Quarter, the Golem, the pubs, the funereal malevolence of its architecture, of Holan and Kafka, of Meyrink and the Czech Dadaists. With this dense cast of characters Ripellino brings out the sorcery of the Bohemian capital in a compelling mix of fact and fiction. This vast fresco of Prague life provides much more than a literary and cultural history of the city; it is both a celebration and a requiem.
‘The city of the Vltava, capital of old Bohemia, is as much a state of mind as a physical location. It was the centre of magic in the Renaissance, the very alembic of Europe, and still retains its reputation for mystery and rank intrigue . . . This is a haunting, clotted, mad masterpiece. It is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding one. As I close the book, the magic city sinks back into its ancient dreaming, and I recall a beautiful line from a poem by Jarolsav Seifert, quoted by Ripellino: “The shadow enters darkness and man enters earth.” ’ John Banville, Observer