Working on new novel in Prague, Czech Republic

An unexpected combination of events has me working on my new novel in a lovely room in the American ambassador’s residence in Prague. (The wife of the ambassador is a good friend of my partner, Valerie. Both are Renaissance scholars. The International Shakespeare Conference is in Prague this year, so here we are!) The residence, which is in gorgeous condition, with original hand-carved scrolled woodwork on the walls, and chandeliers and priceless tapestry chairs intact, was built in the 1920s-30s by a fabulously wealthy Jewish industrialist. He and his family walked out of the house with a few suitcases, pretending to be going away for the weekend, in 1938. The house was then occupied by the Nazi General Council in Prague, and after that, by the Red Army for a couple of weeks. It is a small miracle to have the house in the fine condition that it is, and there are several stories behind that miracle.

The presence of the current U.S. ambassador, Norman Eisen, in this house is itself a compelling story. It would have been from here that the transport order was signed by the Nazis that put Eisen’s mother, then a citizen of Slovakia, on a train to Auschwitz. She was there for nine months before the camp was liberated. People like to say that what goes around, comes around, but that isn’t always true. Still, it is quite moving to witness Ambassador Eisen’s wonder as he shares this history with guests.

I am lucky to be here, although it does seem very odd to be reading a history of William (“Wild Bill”) Langer, a colorful former governor of North Dakota, in these surroundings!

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