Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague

Prague's transition In the early 1990s, young North Americans flocked to Prague for the authentic Bohemian lifestyle-the chance to live on the cheap in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Since then, however, rampant westernization has replaced most of the romance.

Brooklyn novelist Myla Goldberg lived in Prague in 1993 and returned there 10 years later to research Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague (Crown Journeys). "So many of Europe's cities have been bombed and burnt and torn down and rebuilt again that their physical history survives in stray fragments or not at all, but Prague is time's magpie, hoarding beautiful, eclectic bits from each successive era," she writes, explaining the book's title. Anyone who has stood in Prague's Old Town Square with its breathtaking amalgamation of architectural styles straddling several centuries will agree. Unfortunately, they will also have been buffeted by the hordes of tourists that now fill the square.

Time's Magpie shines a light on Prague's more private personality, showcasing some of the city's lesser-known details, from the Museum of Communism (started, ironically, by an American) to the enormous plinth in Letna Park overlooking the city centre that was built to support a 30-metre statue of Joseph Stalin in 1955, two years after his death. Because Stalin fell out of favour quickly, the statue was demolished in 1962, but now the "Stalin plinth is skater nirvana".

Goldberg's expat eye is the perfect lens for this portrait of Prague, and her novelist's pen does an exceptional job of presenting it. The one thing missing is her personal connection with the city. She relates no anecdotes from 1993, and does not compare now and then in any comprehensive way. Still, those who know Prague will learn a lot here, and those who have not yet had the pleasure will find the prospect of travelling there even more enticing.