I’ve just returned from a glorious half term break to Prague. There were a couple bright, sunny days, and the others were dry and autumnal. Moreover, Prague suits me because there are a lot of sights close together, so I didn’t have to walk miles. Like my heroine Julie, I’m quite slow getting around and prefer to expend energy “onsite”‘ as opposed to actually getting there.
One of the things I really had to do this time was visit the Kafka house on the newly restored Golden Lane in the shadow of Prague Castle. It’s a very small dwelling where Kafka lived with his sister for a brief period in 1916 – 1917, and, fittingly, it’s now a bookshop mainly dedicated to the works of Kafka. There were plenty of new attractive editions, much more tempting than the rather drab Fischer Verlag books I knew in university days. But even so, I’m afraid I didn’t succumb.
No, Kafka just doesn’t do it for me. I like my stories to be direct and uncomplicated with a clear message. Although I understand that Kafka’s work stems from a sense of alienation as a German speaker in a Czech world and as a Jew in a predominantly Christian city, I would much prefer it if he’d just come out and said so, rather than leaving it to me to peel off the layers of meaning until I understand it.
So I was intrigued to come across a book by Trollope, also set in Prague. Nina Balatka is the tale of a Christian girl who falls in love with a Jew and the ensuing anguish on both sides of the divide – issues with which Kafka would surely have identified, but presented in a much more straightforward way. Interestingly, Trollope first published this work anonymously to see if anyone could identify the author and because he wanted to see if an already acclaimed writer could gain recognition for something else – an early example of J K Rowling!
Another point of interest about Nina Balatka is that it is comparatively short, so ideal for those of us who want to enjoy Trollope but don’t have time to immerse ourselves in a full-blooded Palliser or Barchester.