Nostalgia for Prague's Anarchic Interlude Between Communism and Capitalism
Over in the Wall Street Journal, I have a review of Caleb Crain's impressive debut novel, Necessary Errors, which concerns the growing pains of young Western expatriates in Czechoslovakia during 1990 and 1991. A sample:
For those who were fortunate enough to have participated in it, this historic youth summit, set against a backdrop of alchemic architecture and bottomless beer, was simultaneously an existence more mundane than any outsider could believe—hunting for vanishing foodstuffs at stores called "store," gossiping listlessly about the romantic lives of fellow twentysomethings—and an experience too life-altering for words. Maybe that's why it took so long for a novel like this to appear: It requires critical distance to square the enormousness of what it all meant with the predictable if poignant longings of post-adolescence. [….]
[T]here was an untethered quality to the freedom in that fleeting era, a kind of oxygen that felt more pure than any other available on earth. It forever changed one's relationship with adulthood and the world.
"No one seemed to be following any rules that the people present hadn't themselves made up," Mr. Crain writes. That feeling has gone nearly extinct in the 21st century. Reminding ourselves of a different time may not be necessary, but it certainly can't hurt.