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Goulash

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Stirring together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth, the eagerly awaited new novel by Brian Kimberling brings to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city. Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It's 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the s Stirring together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth, the eagerly awaited new novel by Brian Kimberling brings to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city. Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It's 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the shadow of communism and into the wilds of twenty-first-century capitalism. Elliott meets his students in a variety of pubs and conducts his lessons over pints of local Radegast beer. He gets his shoes stolen by an experimental artist who engages Elliott in a number of eccentric schemes. And he meets Amanda, an English teacher from the UK, with whom he falls in love. Together, they try to make a place for themselves as strangers in this strange land. They explore the dark history and surprising wonders of their adopted city, touring the twisting ancient streets and encountering expats, movie stars, tobacco executives, a former Soviet informant, and the president of Poland. But the forces that are reshaping the city are also at work on them, and eventually it becomes evident that their idyll must end--that change is the only reality one can't outrun.


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Stirring together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth, the eagerly awaited new novel by Brian Kimberling brings to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city. Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It's 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the s Stirring together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth, the eagerly awaited new novel by Brian Kimberling brings to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city. Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It's 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the shadow of communism and into the wilds of twenty-first-century capitalism. Elliott meets his students in a variety of pubs and conducts his lessons over pints of local Radegast beer. He gets his shoes stolen by an experimental artist who engages Elliott in a number of eccentric schemes. And he meets Amanda, an English teacher from the UK, with whom he falls in love. Together, they try to make a place for themselves as strangers in this strange land. They explore the dark history and surprising wonders of their adopted city, touring the twisting ancient streets and encountering expats, movie stars, tobacco executives, a former Soviet informant, and the president of Poland. But the forces that are reshaping the city are also at work on them, and eventually it becomes evident that their idyll must end--that change is the only reality one can't outrun.

30 review for Goulash

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “Look where we are. East meets West. Communism meets capitalism.” In 1998 Elliott Black leaves Indiana behind for a couple of years to teach English in Prague. The opening sequence, in which he discovers that his stolen shoes have been incorporated into an art installation, is an appropriate introduction to a country where bizarre things happen. Elliott doesn’t work for a traditional language school; his students are more likely to be people he meets in the pub or tobacco company executives. The “Look where we are. East meets West. Communism meets capitalism.” In 1998 Elliott Black leaves Indiana behind for a couple of years to teach English in Prague. The opening sequence, in which he discovers that his stolen shoes have been incorporated into an art installation, is an appropriate introduction to a country where bizarre things happen. Elliott doesn’t work for a traditional language school; his students are more likely to be people he meets in the pub or tobacco company executives. Their quirky, deadpan conversations are the highlight of the book. Elliott starts dating a fellow teacher from England, Amanda (she “looked like azaleas in May and she spoke like the BBC World Service”), who also works as a translator. They live together in an apartment they call Graceland. Much of this short novel is about their low-key, slightly odd adventures, together and separately, while the epilogue sees Elliott looking back at their relationship from many years later. I was tickled by a number of the turns of phrase, but didn’t feel particularly engaged with the plot, which was inspired by Kimberling’s own experiences living in Prague. Favorite passages: “Sorrowful stories like airborne diseases made their way through the windows and under the doorframe, bubbled up like the bathtub drain. It was possible to fill Graceland with light and color and music and the smell of good food, and yet the flat was like a patient with some untreatable condition, and we got tired of palliative care.” “‘It’s good to be out of Prague,’ he said. ‘Every inch drenched in blood and steeped in alchemy, with a whiff of Soviet body odor.’ ‘You should write for Lonely Planet,’ I said.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Thank you to the publisher and goodreads for the free copy. Goulash is the story of a young American who moves to Czechoslovakia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union to teach English. He meets the locals, drinks a lot of beer and falls in love with an expat Englishwoman. I did enjoy the portrait of Prague in a time of transition (inspired by the author's own experience) and several of the chapters read as fine little short stories. Some quirky characters with potential came and went. There Thank you to the publisher and goodreads for the free copy. Goulash is the story of a young American who moves to Czechoslovakia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union to teach English. He meets the locals, drinks a lot of beer and falls in love with an expat Englishwoman. I did enjoy the portrait of Prague in a time of transition (inspired by the author's own experience) and several of the chapters read as fine little short stories. Some quirky characters with potential came and went. There were also a handful of excellently crafted sentences/observations. As a whole I did have a hard time getting into the heads of the characters or feeling any sort of curiosity as to what was coming next (although... and this only makes me think I'm a horrible person, I did at one point think to myself that I would enjoy the climatic ending of the book being a suicide. Like I said, I just might be twisted). I would read more from the author, as I did enjoy with language but would hope for a more coherent book to suck me in.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alec Rigdon

    Kimberling is a gifted writer, but the issue with this book is that it doesn't really go anywhere. The main character seems to be a self-pitying, straight man who is trying to find himself in a European country; nothing groundbreaking. The condensing of the female (supporting) characters' traits also come across as a bit naive and misogynistic, even if not intentionally. There are some great descriptions of Prague and surrounding areas, but overall the story isn't worth reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    3.5? Another book with wonderful individual sentences and some really great chapters, but there’s just something lacking that keeps it from being a fantastic novel. I wish I could better describe what I thought was missing, but I’m not sure what it was. The haphazard way that Elliot stumbles through life felt real enough for a directionless twenty-something. The scene where Elliot is trying to teach his language students why a badass is good and a smart-ass is bad is truly a gem. I also loved hi 3.5? Another book with wonderful individual sentences and some really great chapters, but there’s just something lacking that keeps it from being a fantastic novel. I wish I could better describe what I thought was missing, but I’m not sure what it was. The haphazard way that Elliot stumbles through life felt real enough for a directionless twenty-something. The scene where Elliot is trying to teach his language students why a badass is good and a smart-ass is bad is truly a gem. I also loved his description of a quartet playing Mozart as an instrumental argument or scuffle. And the story resolves itself – or at least comes full circle, so it can’t be that. In fact, many chapters felt like they would be perfectly excerpted as New Yorker magazine short stories. But that last chapter just felt so odd and ambivalent (although that was probably the point) that I couldn’t close the book with a satisfying thud. I really like Kimberling’s writing very much and will read his next book. I just wish I felt more satisfied at the end of the book as I did while reading it. Favorites: “In school we all learned to use a watch as a compass so we could hide in the woods when the Americans came,” he said. “We hid under our desks to prepare for you guys dropping bombs.” “Wow,” he said. “Either you had a low opinion of our bombs or a high opinion of your desks.” "Rain in Prague dispenses double meanings; other places sport reflections but every spire in a puddle in Prague or headlight diffused on wet pavement suggests some place equally beautiful where things work correctly, probably in Bavaria."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    Visit the locations in the novel Goulash – what a great title – is the story of a twenty something American who moves to Czechoslovakia not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. He’s there on a personal adventure, to teach English and to find himself. To be as far away from small-town Indiana and explore the world. He ends up falling in love and that causes all kinds of problems for him. This is an interesting portrait of Prague at a time of great historical and political change. It read like a Visit the locations in the novel Goulash – what a great title – is the story of a twenty something American who moves to Czechoslovakia not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. He’s there on a personal adventure, to teach English and to find himself. To be as far away from small-town Indiana and explore the world. He ends up falling in love and that causes all kinds of problems for him. This is an interesting portrait of Prague at a time of great historical and political change. It read like a series of short stories, vignettes if you will , of a country in the grip of great transformation. This side of the book was interesting and felt very much like an old movie. An experience of flicking screens of time and moments interceded with snippets of numbers counting down towards the end. And it felt like the end was a downward spiral towards..well I’m not sure. I’m not really sure why Elliot even wanted to travel outside of his comfort zone as once in Prague, he spends time in the bars drinking and feeling down about his lot in life. His romance with Amanda was an interesting thread however but he did seem to followed her around the city rather than walk beside her. Nevertheless, we do get a good insight into the time and setting of a country in turmoil The changes, the hopes and dreams of those who live there… As a book about snippets of life in the Czech republic, the book works well, but the story of the couple didn’t quite work so well for me. There were some very funny and memorable moments of life in that time and place. Oh, and the observations about the spiky Czech language were insightful. Then there the Americanisms too – How many words can you add ‘ ass’ on to such as bad-ass, kick ass etc? Language observations were spot on and very interesting. And the descriptions of the German toilet! Haha yes. Using a food analogy then, this taste of Goulash was good for a starter. I now want to digest more of the history and culture of the Prague and the Czech Republic.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ylenia

    Thank you @Pantheon Books for sending me a finished copy of this book - unfortunately I didn't like it that much. The story was set in Prague, where we followed our twenty-something protagonist Elliott around the city. He spent his time teaching English in pubs, drinking a lot of beer & generally feeling miserable about his surroundings. I have to disagree with the synopsis because this book didn't stir "together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth" at all. Actually, I Thank you @Pantheon Books for sending me a finished copy of this book - unfortunately I didn't like it that much. The story was set in Prague, where we followed our twenty-something protagonist Elliott around the city. He spent his time teaching English in pubs, drinking a lot of beer & generally feeling miserable about his surroundings. I have to disagree with the synopsis because this book didn't stir "together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth" at all. Actually, I had the opposite experience. Some situations were absurd, the ones you could only be exposed to living in a totally different setting that the one you're used to, but not necessarily hilarious. I thought some dialogues & conversations were supposed to show the author's humor, but they ended up feeling forced & unrealistic. There is no romance per se in this novel, just a romantic relationship with no passion at all. It was just thrown into the mix. This book doesn't work even if you think about it as an exploration of bleak people living a bleak life. I liked how the novel was told in little snapshots of life, but it doesn't mean I found all of them interesting. Elliott met a lot of intriguing people along the way, but not many of them got the chance to really shine (and they had a lot of potential!).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I originally selected this book because of the setting; the Czech Republic. Some place new and different and rarely found in fiction, in my humble opinion. What you get is a small taste of what it would be like as an American living in Eastern Europe. But it's equal parts a place narrative AND a people narrative. The characters are quirky, damaged, adaptive and ALL are trying to survive in a less-than-thriving nation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Goulash offers an interesting look into a young man's life as he learns about love, growing up, and himself. Kimberling develops his characters well, each is unique and interesting in their own way, with their own problems. While the book is depressing at times, it is realistic in a way many novels about living in foreign countries fail to be. The descriptions of Prague are both fantastic and gritty, which creates a unique atmosphere for the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sridhar

    Chronicles of a middle American who tries to escape Indiana and make a living in Prague teaching English. Some of the chapters are very vivid and descriptive whereas others seem pedestrian. The language is funny and clever. There are some subtle undercurrents about communism and capitalism that the author wanted to present using the various characters. I think I would enjoy a more coherent story as a fiction. Will be interested to read more from the author.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Piselli

    The sardonic tone of this book put me in mind of a great Czech writer, Vojtech Novotny, who wrote Notebooks From New Guinea. It quotes from a translator of Good Soldier Svejk addressing the difficulty of rendering the rich array of profanity contained in the Czech language. The ending was melancholy as befitted this interesting tale.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Krenner1

    What witty and clever dialogues and writing in this rambling novel about a young American who is teaching English in Prague. I found myself looking up so many of his references to Prague history. An entertaining, quirky read. "She was five foot one and built like an insect, with a middle Tennessee drawl that turned every utterance into a musical composition."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

    If this book was not set in Prague, a city which has captured my heart and attention for nearly a decade, I don't think I would have enjoyed it at all. The author has spent lots of time around Czech people though - his portrayals of their attitudes and responses were distinctly Czech. That was really entertaining to read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Izzy Macpherson

    This book was slow and confusing. The author has a very sophisticated writing style. I have never read a book in a similar style to his which made it slightly difficult to read. In the parts that I did understand the story was interesting but a little random.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    A very fun book with a young American teaching English in Prague in 1998. It’s fun as he watched what the city is going to become now that it’s out from under communist rule and also who this young man will become. Great trip through a different world.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Joulwan

    3 1/2 stars. Excellent descriptions of Prague sights and Prague life.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Fun jaunt into revolutionary Prague.

  17. 5 out of 5

    PG

    Something special.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Didn't finish

  19. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Good atmospheric piece and I liked reading about the Czech Republic, but my emotions remained uninvolved throughout.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Olberding

    A novel / linked series of stories detailing the absurdity of life, as seen through the eyes of an English teacher in Prague in the late 90s.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vania Lima domaniczky

  23. 4 out of 5

    Damon Jordan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Pia

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christine Antalek

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Stryker

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nessa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sean (Books & Beers)

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