If you read the marketing material, you’ll think that Prague Spring is an espionage novel. But it’s only that up to a point. More properly, the book is an historical novel set in Prague in 1968, when the reformist government led by Alexander Dubček departed from the path of hard-line Communism. Dubček famously introduced “socialism with a human face.” As history tells us, the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev found the results intolerable and invaded Czechoslovakia to restore the old regime. The result, as any student of history will know, was bloodshed. The action in the novel spans the months before and during the invasion.
Two couples caught up in the drama of Prague Spring
The story in Simon Mawer’s brilliant telling follows the lives of two young couples. James Borthwick and Eleanor Pike are Oxford University students who meet when they’re cast in starring roles in a play on campus. Samuel (Sam) Wareham is First Secretary of the British Embassy in Prague. He’s engaged to marry Stephanie, a secretary there. But when she returns to England on leave, Sam meets Lenka Konečková, a Czech student he promptly falls in love with. The very different relationships between these two couples constitute the heart of the tale in Prague Spring. Mawer displays sensitivity and deep understanding of human psychology in his treatment of their emotional relationships. The two couples’ paths cross as the invasion draws nearer. The dramatic action that brings the tale to its climax is sudden and shocking.
Prague Spring by Simon Mawer (2018) 399 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
You might think it difficult to build a novel around two love affairs and espionage during Prague Spring, but Simon Mawer pulls it off adroitly.
East-West relationships during the depth of the Cold War
The relationship between Britain and the Soviet Union is a central thread of the tale in Prague Spring. In 1968, suspicion between the two countries ran deep. The Russians and their Czechoslovak allies routinely follow any diplomat like Sam Wareham and bug his apartment. Sadly,Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime continues those practices to this day.
About the author
Prague Spring is the 12th novel from award-winning British author Simon Mawer. His best-known previous works were Mendel’s Dwarf and The Glass Room, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Mawer has lived in Italy since 1977. He teaches biology at an international school in Rome.
For additional reading
Previously I reviewed Mawer’s “superbly suspenseful” tale, The Glass Room, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. My review is at A brilliant novel explores life in Nazi Europe.
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