Mankind's only alternative 3   DEC.   22  
Mankind's only alternative
War Nerd RSS

The Fall of The eXile For all those wondering what the "Save The eXile Fundrasier" banner is all about, here it is as simply as it can be phrased: The eXile is shutting down.
June 11, 2008 in eXile Blog

War Nerd: War of the Babies in Taki's Magazine The War Nerd talks about babies, the greatest weapon of the 20th century.
May 28, 2008 in eXile Blog

Kids, Meet Your President A website for Russian kids to learn all about President Medvedev's passion for school, sports and family.
May 22, 2008 in eXile Blog

Cellphone Democracy Cam If this girl was exposed to Jeffersonian democracy...
May 20, 2008 in Face Control

More Classy B&W Dyev Photos Yet another hot Russian babe imitating the Catpower look...
May 20, 2008 in Face Control

Proof That Genetic Memory Is Real! Sure, the Ottomans shut down the Istanbul Slavic slave markets centuries ago...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

Russia's Orthodox Church Youth Outreach Program The priest is going, "Father Sansei is very impressed with grasshopper Sasha’s...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

More Classy B&W Club Photos w/Russian Dyevs We took the Pepsi Challenge here...
May 15, 2008 in Face Control

Blogs RSS feed

Book Review August 23, 2002
Bozos in Budapest
By Alexander Zaitchik Browse author Email

As a publishing industry event, Arthur Phillip's Prague had to happen. As literature, the book has no reason to exist.

The very idea of a "90s expatriate novel" is flawed. The true expat novel is a messy stack of lined, beer-stained notebook paper, its author naked and passed out on a sofa-bed with a seventeen year-old named Blanka. Expat art is best expressed in short, more napkin and matchbook-based forms: the comic strip, the article, the confessional poem, the song, maybe the comedic screenplay. When someone pulls out a 350-page manuscript about expats in post-communist Europe, I reach for my revolver.

Basing a novel on a flawed concept is forgivable; executing that concept this badly is not. Arthur Phillips writes with the stiff pretensions and polished self-consciousness of the fiction seminar nerd, the kid with smarts but little music, a vocabulary but no handle on it. And if he could make his own name an adverb, he would. Prague is a place where characters "squawk distortedly" and "invariably declare" things to be "a little inexplicable" and "elegantly incontrovertible"; where buildings look "positively exotic" and people have "up-beatitude"; where eyebrows are "engineered for expressivity"; where jokes - if not "immediately exempt from laughability" - are "bittersweetly hilarious"; where memories "burrow slickly" and where "entirely revealing" facts are defined by their "sheer, scarcely tolerable intrusiveness."

The prose is limp-wristed and terrible, start to finish. It is the work of a third-rate Victorian dandy trapped in the body of a Harvard educated Valley girl. On page 356, we learn two things. We learn that "Emily's bungalow had persistently proclaimed its emptiness, and her telephone its unreceptive solitude," and we learn that anybody can publish a novel in 2002. Just slap a picture of the Charles Bridge on the cover and call it Prague. Then crank up the publicity machine and hope another 20,000 Amazon shoppers mistake it for a guidebook.

Prague By Arthur Phillips. Book cover

By Arthur Phillips
Random House, 2002

The story, as the author himself might write, could scarcely be duller. The year is 1990, and four Americans and a Canadian are living in Budapest. There's Scott and John Price, English teacher and venture capitalist. There's Emily, chirpy assistant to the U.S. Ambassador. There's Mark, gay post-graduate student. And there's Charles, reporter for the fledgling BudepestToday newspaper.

We follow this crew into the cafes and jazz clubs of Buda, and over the bridges and down the streets of Pest. And it is a singularly boring experience. Their conversation is at or below the level of green expat bull sessions, filled with the inane and the obvious. The reader is treated to such profound insights into post-Communist Europe as bad service (p. 12), cheap copies of western clothes (p. 59) and, in one of the author's more embarrassing moments, strip clubs. ("[T]he girl removed her clothing with such velocity and facility that John realized how much more practiced strippers are at undressing than the average person." p. 299).

Yes, folks, this best-selling debut novel is that bad. The characters with potential to be interesting are just awkwardly sketched composites of pseudo-intellectual hipster lightweights. Mark Payton is supposed to be a frantic, brilliant eccentric, obsessed with the mysteries of time and driven by a quixotic 19th century quest to quantify nostalgia, but Phillips can only muster a bad copy of a stock stoner. Witness Mark the crazy intellectual gushing to John about how strange "1990" looks on the front page of a newspaper:

"You know how in the first couple weeks of January the dates on newspapers look they're from science fiction? Like 1990? Not 1989 anymore? This is the latest in the year this has ever happened. I mean, it's July, but the date has that science-fictiony feel today. When I saw the paper I was amazed - I saw this paper and I was, like, July 14th, 1990? That looks bizarre."

SHARE:  Digg  My Web  Facebook  Reddit
Browse author
Alexander Zaitchik is an editor at The eXile. Email him at

Top Of The World Clubbin' : Moscow From The Shadows To The 21st Floor
Your Letters :
Cold War Debate
Devil's Night Debate: Is Russia America's Enemy, Again? : Six Russia watchers battle over how to smash the Putin-o-lantern.
Al-Dilbert :


Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
Feature Story By The eXile
Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
Club Review By Dmitriy Babooshka
eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
Bardak Calendar By Jared Lindquist
Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
America By Eileen Jones
Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


    MAIN    |    RUSSIA    |    WAR NERD     |    [SIC!]    |    BAR-DAK    |    THE VAULT    |    ABOUT US    |    RSS

© "the eXile". Tel.: +7 (495) 623-3565, fax: +7 (495) 623-5442