There’s nothing better that getting to really know the place you’re visiting in order to build up that sense of anticipation. Today, there’s a whole host of travel books, guides, and novels available to help you navigate the history, culture and traditions of your chosen destination. With this in mind, we’ve dipped our toe into the vast literary waters of travel guides and novels set in Central Europe and come up with three of each to give you a few pointers to help you appreciate things once you arrive.
A bit of background is always useful although like that yogurt pot at the back of the fridge, most guidebooks can quickly go out of date given today’s fast pace of life (so check the publication date). And where better to start than with three of the most popular travel bibles? Given the sheer size and diversity of Central Europe then it’s a hard ask to cover everything in detail, but these three can usually be relied on to come up trumps.
Rick Steeves’ Travel Guides
Rick Steeves is the American travel author and TV personality who, in addition to a comprehensive travel website, publishes a range of regularly updated guidebooks that focus on European travels. The books offer some excellent itineraries and lots of highly detailed information on the available culture with hugely detailed travel information. Each guidebook comes with practical tips and sightseeing recommendations from Rick himself
The rough guide series is aimed at those travelers that like to get off the beaten path and the range of books often focus on one particular city or region. Much attention is given to rural areas and small towns along with a full range of cultural information. Bear in mind that the books, although popular, are written in British English and are not updated each year.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides
Whereas many of the photos used in the Rick Steeves series of books tend to be black and white, DK’s Eyewitness guides are packed with stunning color photos, maps, and cutaway drawings. Although a little on the pricey side, the books are updated each year and include plenty of itineraries and hotel and restaurant listings.
Central Europe has produced some of the world’s best writers over the years, one of which even gave the English language the word ‘Robot’ (Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. written in 1920). The names of many authors such as Kafka, Kundera and Nietzche roll straight off the tongue but there are plenty more that can be added to the mix. Here’s a cross-section of old and new.
The Good Soldier Švejk – Jaroslav Hašek
Written in 1923, this comic satirical masterpiece has currently been translated into 58 languages and inspired Joseph Heller’s iconic Catch-22 novel. Set during the First World War at the time of the ‘dual monarchy’ known as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, this bitterly funny novel provides an amusing view of life in those times. Švejk, the hapless but clever fool with his passive resistance and sharp satire, exposes the futility and pointlessness of the conflict and military discipline. The book provides a fascinating insight into the mentality in the region at that point in history.
Prague – Arthur Phillips
On a more modern note, Arthur Phillips’ Prague published in 2002 is actually set in Budapest and won The Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Award for Best First Fiction in 2003. The book tells the story of five American expats living in Budapest in 1990 following the Cold War. The novel gives a detailed account of Hungarian history as part of the plot in order to add historical context. It’s a fascinating read, not just because of its complex characters but because of the glittering depiction of Budapest itself. As one reviewer said, “It makes you want to jump on a plane and fly there”.
Sophie’s Choice – William Styron
The book was adapted into the 1982 Oscar winning movie starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Sophie’s Choice does a wonderful job of telling a horrific and heartbreaking tale in a bearable and sensitive manner. This emotional rollercoaster of a book tells the story of an Auschwitz survivor and her relationship with the two characters whom she shares a boarding house in Brooklyn. Those who enjoyed the film will not be disappointed by a book that is now regarded as an essential element of American literature.
And finally… For a more detailed look at the many popular novels by Central European authors, why not grab a coffee, put your feet up and browse the Goodreads book review website? Maybe start with this list here: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/central-european
What are your favorite travel guidebooks and novels about Central Europe? What books will you be loading into your kindle/tablet (or suitcase if you prefer paperbacks!) to read during your vacation? Join in the conversation and tell us below!