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Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl's subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our unders Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl's subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our understanding not only of Central Europe but also of what it means to be engaged in the struggle of a people to define and affirm themselves. Reissued now, during the tenth anniversary of that astonishing upheaval known as the Velvet Revolution, A Romantic Education includes an extensive updated afterword based on Hampl's annual return trips to Prague and the Czech countryside. Here is an excellent introduction to what was once the unknown "other Europe" behind the Iron Curtain and is now the continent's hottest new travel destination. Once again, as she did in a darker time, Hampl sees the texture beneath the surface of things and intuits the changing life of one of Europe's most bewitching cities. A Romantic Education is an exquisite journey into history and into the conundrum of personal memory


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Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl's subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our unders Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl's subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our understanding not only of Central Europe but also of what it means to be engaged in the struggle of a people to define and affirm themselves. Reissued now, during the tenth anniversary of that astonishing upheaval known as the Velvet Revolution, A Romantic Education includes an extensive updated afterword based on Hampl's annual return trips to Prague and the Czech countryside. Here is an excellent introduction to what was once the unknown "other Europe" behind the Iron Curtain and is now the continent's hottest new travel destination. Once again, as she did in a darker time, Hampl sees the texture beneath the surface of things and intuits the changing life of one of Europe's most bewitching cities. A Romantic Education is an exquisite journey into history and into the conundrum of personal memory

30 review for A Romantic Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve Turtell

    This is a brilliant book, a combination memoir, travelogue, and cultural investigation of the author's European roots, mostly in Eastern Europe and the former Czechslovakia. I'm sorry I only came upon it years after its original publication in 1981 (and republication-I just read the new edition with an extensive Afterword, bring the reader up to date on her experiences in the new Czech republic ten years after the Velvet Revolution. The best parts are in the last third of the book, which all tak This is a brilliant book, a combination memoir, travelogue, and cultural investigation of the author's European roots, mostly in Eastern Europe and the former Czechslovakia. I'm sorry I only came upon it years after its original publication in 1981 (and republication-I just read the new edition with an extensive Afterword, bring the reader up to date on her experiences in the new Czech republic ten years after the Velvet Revolution. The best parts are in the last third of the book, which all takes place in Prague, which she describes wonderfully. The portrait of "Jaromil" a Czech poet who is one of her guides to the city before the onslaught of tourism changes it forever in the wake of the revolution, is one of its great delights--as is the revelation of Jaromil's identity at the end--and the disquisition it prompts on the political complications faced by even the most ordinary Czech citizen. Hampl is that rare creature who can analyze without becoming bloodless. Wonderful book. I look forward to reading anything else of hers I can get my hands on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    This memoir begins with Patricia Hampl's childhood stories of growing up in St. Paul with Czech roots (author's grandmother came to the United States as a very young woman immediately before WWI). It turns into a combination memoir, travelogue and cultural study of Prague -- the author visits Prague twice the late 1970s as a young woman & attempts to understand the place's history and literary culture. She quickly gives up the idea of tracing her own Czech roots; after all, as she says, Czechosl This memoir begins with Patricia Hampl's childhood stories of growing up in St. Paul with Czech roots (author's grandmother came to the United States as a very young woman immediately before WWI). It turns into a combination memoir, travelogue and cultural study of Prague -- the author visits Prague twice the late 1970s as a young woman & attempts to understand the place's history and literary culture. She quickly gives up the idea of tracing her own Czech roots; after all, as she says, Czechoslovakia wasn't even a country on its own when her grandmother left, but she is fascinated by Prague and by the Czech psyche as they have adjusted to & resisted Communism. It's beautifully and thoughtfully written; Hampl is an accomplished poet and this just the first of several books of memoirs and "personal narratives" that she has done. Also, this edition was reprinted in 1999, with an afterword chapter added that has Hampl now living and teaching in Prague every summer, becoming more appreciative of Prague's beauty and spirit and more understanding of its people.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hiskes

    I picked this up wanting to learn more about the quarter of my ethnicity that comes from my Czech grandfather (who I never knew except as an infant). A Romantic Education is more ambitious than a musing on ethnic heritage or a travelogue to the Old Country, although it contains both of those things. Hampl sorts through her family's history seeking to understand how memory and history converge, how the personal informs the political, and other weighty philosophical questions embedded in her growt I picked this up wanting to learn more about the quarter of my ethnicity that comes from my Czech grandfather (who I never knew except as an infant). A Romantic Education is more ambitious than a musing on ethnic heritage or a travelogue to the Old Country, although it contains both of those things. Hampl sorts through her family's history seeking to understand how memory and history converge, how the personal informs the political, and other weighty philosophical questions embedded in her growth from a St. Paul, Minnesota, bookworm to a serious intellectual poet. The book has three movements. The first concerns her childhood has a third-generation immigrant in a middle class family none too concerned with its history. From her father's flower nursery she learns the value of creative work -- there is utility in art. From her incurious grandmother, who doesn't remember the name of her childhood village or whether she's ever been to Prague, Hampl learns she must explore the Old Country herself. The second section, a somewhat odd musing on beauty as a virtue all women feel compelled to chase, seems to hint at Hampl's core theme: She hungers for a culture more rooted than the suburban American melting pot of her family. Something to orient her in history and help her understand how her life has political meaning (as a 60s child who tried to stop the Vietnam War). The third and longest second recounts her trips to Communist-era Prague, her long walks and meetings with acquaintances. It's a lovely meditation on how citizens respond to an oppressive regime that uses the threat of violence more than violence itself. She grapples with the rootedness she admires in Europe and also with her horrors, and I can't do her discoveries justice, so I'll just recommend the book. "The country itself becomes the lost ancestry and, one finds, the country is eloquent," Hample writes. "Its long story, its history, satisfy the instinct for kinship in a way that the discovery of a distant cousin could not. For it is really the longing for a lost culture that sends Americans on these pilgrimages."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

    This my first reading of a memoir. It strikes me as a bit like reading someone's journal or diary; it is a very personal story. And as Hampl points out, in borders on fiction in that the memories are impossible to verify, nevertheless they are accurate from the writer's point of view. Though there were numerous clichéd references to food, flowers, and TV shows, most of her "memory joggers" are highly personal and unique to her upbringing, family, and community. I enjoyed her recollection of her This my first reading of a memoir. It strikes me as a bit like reading someone's journal or diary; it is a very personal story. And as Hampl points out, in borders on fiction in that the memories are impossible to verify, nevertheless they are accurate from the writer's point of view. Though there were numerous clichéd references to food, flowers, and TV shows, most of her "memory joggers" are highly personal and unique to her upbringing, family, and community. I enjoyed her recollection of her first exposure to racism, bed wetting, washing her face with the dew from the grass, and the rag sheeny. It is evident early on that Ms Hampl is going to be an exceptional person because of her early interest in intellectual pursuits. Early exposure to the wealth of Summit Avenue obviously had a motivational effect on her. I enjoyed her explanation of how she was influenced by climate, reading, and the "Mary Hill" mansion. The second section of the book delves into the feminine psyche, and is called "Beauty". As a male it was eye-opening to read about how different women dealt with their physical appearance and ageing. Beauty, of course takes different forms—architecture, art, music, and city planning—and Hampl touches on all of them. I was a little lost in the 3rd section of the memoir—"Prague". She delves into the history of Czechoslovakia and Prague. Though it was interesting I had difficulty relating to it as I do not have the ethnic heritage that Hampl does. I will admit that it was interesting to see how communism caused the "greying" of Eastern Europe and how orthodoxy ultimately condemns any society to decay.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Leda

    Hampl is a fluid and beautiful writer, although she has a tendency to lapse into philosophizing that I found really annoying. I enjoyed the book, but also felt it lacked some sense of spirit - like she was too much in her own head the whole time. Also, she uses the word "elegy," or variations thereof far too often. I once counted four instances all on the same (short) page. Hampl is a fluid and beautiful writer, although she has a tendency to lapse into philosophizing that I found really annoying. I enjoyed the book, but also felt it lacked some sense of spirit - like she was too much in her own head the whole time. Also, she uses the word "elegy," or variations thereof far too often. I once counted four instances all on the same (short) page.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Well that was delightful; like sitting down over coffee with a kindred spirit to discuss our shared experiences and interests. There are too few reviews here, so I may write more, but not today.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    I've always wanted to read something by Patricia Hampl. She is a native Minnesotan and highly respected and renowned University of Minnesota faculty member. If I had read this book when originally published in 1981, it would have meant little to me. Hampl is trying to understand her Czech roots and makes a trip to then Communist controlled Czechoslovakia. She grew up in St. Paul knowing her Czech grandmother but not understanding her at all. The author discusses how the grandchildren of the late I've always wanted to read something by Patricia Hampl. She is a native Minnesotan and highly respected and renowned University of Minnesota faculty member. If I had read this book when originally published in 1981, it would have meant little to me. Hampl is trying to understand her Czech roots and makes a trip to then Communist controlled Czechoslovakia. She grew up in St. Paul knowing her Czech grandmother but not understanding her at all. The author discusses how the grandchildren of the late 19th century immigrants make pilgrimages to the "old country" attempting to find their roots. She goes on to discuss how the real quest is to find a lost culture. Deep thoughts for sure! Hampl then revisits the country in the late 1990s after the Communists have left and the Velvet Divorce occurred. There is no more Czechoslovakia. She spends entire summers teaching in Prague hoping to really live in Prague and not just be a tourist. This 1999 edition includes an Afterword which reflects Hampl's further understanding of her Czech roots following these later visits. I can't say enough about how the book helps me understand my own quest to discover my roots. I like finding my ancestors but it means more to place them somewhere in the complex history of the Czech Republic. I've also wondered about the attempts in the U.S. to save the culture by keeping alive the food and the dances. Is that really what culture is all about? Hampl questions that and goes on to say how important the Czech language is but how difficult it is for us Americans. Culture is really more than all of those things. It's knowing more about the national culture and where it came from. It's about knowing that the Czech Republic is right in the center of Europe in the meeting between East and West; that was true long ago and continues to be true today. It's not Eastern Europer or Western Europe; the Czech Republic is Central Europe and proud of it. And, it's about the struggle for freedom. Hampl's descriptions of Prague including seeing the colors go from Communist gray in the 1980s to the "Schonbrunn yellow, the Bohemian Rozemberk rose, the Mozartian lime-green of the Estates Theater" are just what I saw on a visit a few years ago. She writes about how village life was destroyed by the Communists outlawing private ownership of businesses, but how a different kind of vibrancy came back to the villages and small towns as city dwellers acquired homes in those same villages. It explained why small villages I was in had few or no businesses and appeared to be bedroom communities for larger towns. All in all, so much was beautifully written about in this book. I will definitely read more by Patricia Hampl.

  8. 5 out of 5

    MaryJane

    This is another memoir by Patricia Hampl. This time remembering her Czeck grandmother, and her travels in Czecoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic. Again, her writing is beautiful, her discussions of poetry sometimes more than I would want, but overall a good read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Geno

    I love to read very good writing - this is a prime example. Deep, personal, richly textured, and very relatable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    MFA. Beautiful writing. Lots to think about.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steve Voiles

    This was a difficult book for me to read. I persisted because of my connections with her St. Paul, and art, and a longing for a culture connected to history beyond commerce. How can there be culture without history? That seems to be Hampl's question and the motive force behind this long meditation on the nature of beauty, and, in her case, it connection to her personal roots in the old world of Europe. A sadness pervades the book, and I interpret it as a longing for a personal connection to histo This was a difficult book for me to read. I persisted because of my connections with her St. Paul, and art, and a longing for a culture connected to history beyond commerce. How can there be culture without history? That seems to be Hampl's question and the motive force behind this long meditation on the nature of beauty, and, in her case, it connection to her personal roots in the old world of Europe. A sadness pervades the book, and I interpret it as a longing for a personal connection to history, something we know little of in America which tries to define itself as freedom; but is freedom entirely an act of self-definition and purchasing power? When we try to define ourselves without reference to the past, don't we just cut ourselves off from the roots that should give us shape and meaning? The shopping centers and the malls, rose up to give a center to civic life, but instead brute cash business drove out every civic impulse; the malls killed the down-towns; now the internet is killing the malls, and we are left uprooted entirely isolated amid our pile of material goods, adrift in our consumer homes, longing for the connection that gives beauty, wherever it can be found, its resonance.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emansil

    The first section of her life in St Paul was very enjoyable and extremely timely for today's political world, even though it was written in 1981. The 2nd half regarding Prague in the late 1970's was tedious at best. I tried for months to finish it. Finally, I had to give it up as a lost cause. The first section of her life in St Paul was very enjoyable and extremely timely for today's political world, even though it was written in 1981. The 2nd half regarding Prague in the late 1970's was tedious at best. I tried for months to finish it. Finally, I had to give it up as a lost cause.

  13. 4 out of 5

    C. Mills

    I learned I wasn't that interest in what had happened in Hampl's life, even though she's famous, at least in the Upper Midwest. I learned I wasn't that interest in what had happened in Hampl's life, even though she's famous, at least in the Upper Midwest.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristel

    Just get to the point!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Enticing prose about early St. Paul, MN.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chrissy

    just started reading... I was crying in the first 10 pages after reading a passage about crying...this book explores memory in a way that is meaningful to me right now... that's all I have to say about that. Okay- clearly I'm not up to reading this since I haven't touched it since I wrote this... save for another day. just started reading... I was crying in the first 10 pages after reading a passage about crying...this book explores memory in a way that is meaningful to me right now... that's all I have to say about that. Okay- clearly I'm not up to reading this since I haven't touched it since I wrote this... save for another day.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    How many times does one say this--needed a good editor!! Or maybe would have been better as a short story or series of essays. It was a good book, but went around and around a subject so many times, even returning to it in later chapters. It did make me want to travel to Europe!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jim Seitz

    A marvelous memoir. The opening chapters are among the best I've read that portray a child's relationship to family, place, and culture. Hampl writes like a dream. A marvelous memoir. The opening chapters are among the best I've read that portray a child's relationship to family, place, and culture. Hampl writes like a dream.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie M

    Great memoir by a Minnesota author/writing teacher at U of M.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pat

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nora

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gail Kennon

    needed to read this more slowly than either of the two previous books i read by her but it well repaid the time. i'll miss being in her world. needed to read this more slowly than either of the two previous books i read by her but it well repaid the time. i'll miss being in her world.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Star

  27. 4 out of 5

    Thentrisius King of Dwarves

  28. 5 out of 5

    Doo7

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karin

  30. 5 out of 5

    Polly

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