Books

Switzerland and Prague: A European Book Adventure


I think I am a traveler rather than a tourist.

While I love checking out all the usual spots that make a city or country unique, I also love visiting places only locals know about and learning how people actually live.

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It might have been – OK, it was – the chocolate that inspires me to travel to Switzerland.

Which is why I liked A Well-Time Murder by Tracee de Hahn ($33.99, Raincoast Books, Minotaur Books, St. Martins Press). Set in Switzerland, the book follows the story of Agnes Lüthi, a Swiss-American police officer who agrees to look into the accidental death of Guy Chavanon, a master watchmaker, who had boasted about his discovery of a new technique that would revolutionize the watchmaking industry.

While one wouldn’t think a book about murder and watches would inspire you to travel to Switzerland, it did. I loved the fact you learned so many about the Swiss and their views on the world.

“’The Mounteir Institut de Jeunes Gen isn’t a good neighbour?’ This was a serious accusation in Switzerland, where courtesy was paramount to local harmony.”

When Agnes spoke to one of Chavanon’s employees about asking his wife, Marie, to show the police officer around the watch factory, Gisele LeRoy, she hesitated, suggesting Marie couldn’t appreciate how things were done because of which part of the country she was from.

“Agnes could hear her mother-in-law saying something similar: my daughter-in-law’s parents aren’t from here, they’re American. Years, decades – in Agnes cases, an entire life – didn’t make a difference. Being from somewhere in Switzerland wasn’t taken lightly.”

Swiss pride and workmanship, particularly in regards to watches and architecture (“George’s parents lived in a picture-perfect three-story chalet with balconies running on the upper floors and flowers cut into the old-fashioned wood shutters. The wood was darkened with age, and a feeling of permanence was in every detail) was also evident throughout the book.

But what sold me on Switzerland was the chocolate.

“The door to the room opened and the espresso was delivered on a tray accompanied by a selection of Lindt chocolates…Mercier reached for a chocolate, offering one to Agnes.”

Any country that delivers Lindt chocolate along with drinks – water or espresso – is a country I need to spend ample amounts of time in.

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Experience and be inspired to travel to Prague.

The Woman From Prague

The Woman From Prague, An Ash McKenna Novel, by Bob Hart ($36.50, PGC Books, Polis Books) is another crime thriller that left me wondering what was going on – and who to trust – while also putting  Prague on my travel list.

The Woman From Prague sees Ash McKenna (yes, he knows it’s a girl’s name), an American running from his demons, spending three months in Prague. He is about to leave when a man named Roman turns up, claiming to work for the U.S. government. In exchange for intercepting a package from a bank employee, Ash’s secrets, the reasons why he is in Prague, will disappear. But the hand-off is a hit and Ash battles an assassin, almost dying in the process. He eventually finds himself “outmatched, hunted and trapped in a dangerous game where nobody is what they seem.”

We get to see Prague from the eyes of Ash, who – when not fleeing assassins and avoiding being killed by multiple people – seems to love the city’s history.

“Outside it’s crowded, mid-day and close enough to Old Town Square there’s spillover of the hordes of tourists. Snowflakes spiral around me, leaving a light dusting on the ground, the area crisscrossed with footprints. To my left, the sea-green spires of the Church of St. Havel stick into the stone gray sky. It’s the kind of church that’s stunning against any background, and here is just another beautiful building lost in a sea of beautiful buildings.”

The Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and the Kafka Museum are also mentioned in the book:

“I’ve been meaning to make it out to the Kafka Museum and I wish it were under different circumstances. It’s the weirdest Museum I’ve ever been to. The place is less a museum and more of a surreal, shadow-drench art installation.”

And while Ash drinks local beer (“…But it’s like Guinness in Dublin. It’s made locally, and you drink it here because it’s best when fresh”), he muses about the six things you need to learn how to say in any language in order to survive:

“Here, I feel like I’m watching a foreign film at double speed with no subtitles. Not that it matters. I’ve found when you’re in a foreign country, there are six things you need to be able to say. Just six. The first is ‘sorry’.

The rest are:

Please. Prosim.
Thank you. Dekuji.
Bathroom. Toaleta.
Beer. Pivo.
Cheers. Na zdravi.

Everything else comes in time, but if you’re able to do those, you’re pretty much set.”

Good advice from one traveler to another! 

A copy of these books was provided by PGC Books and Raincoast Books for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

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