It's the summer of 1968, the year of love and hate, of Prague Spring and Cold War winter. Two English students, Ellie and James, set off to hitch-hike across Europe with no particular aim in mind but a continent, and themselves, to discover. Somewhere in southern Germany they decide, on a whim, to visit Czechoslovakia where Alexander Dubček's "socialism with a human face" is smiling on the world.
Meanwhile Sam Wareham, a first secretary at the British embassy in Prague, is observing developments in the country with a mixture of diplomatic cynicism and a young man's passion. In the company of Czech student, Lenka Konečková, he finds a way into the world of Czechoslovak youth, its hopes and its ideas. It seems that, for the first time, nothing is off limits behind the Iron Curtain.
Yet the wheels of politics are grinding in the background. The Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev is making demands of Dubček and the Red Army is massed on the borders. How will the looming disaster affect those fragile lives caught up in the invasion?
From Country & Town House Magazine, November 2018
"Mawer captures superbly the fear and suspicion that dominated life in the former Communist Bloc countries while his description of the battles between the heavily armed Russian troops and the young Czech protestors is shockingly atmospheric."
From the Times, 11/8/2018
"Mawer is a superb chronicler of past events in foreign countries, and Prague Spring is a wonderfully atmospheric portrait of the city, as well as a political and historical thriller with dashes of espionage. It is as brilliant as anything he has written, which is saying a great deal."
From Daily Mail, 3/8/2018
"MAWER, shortlisted for the Booker with his World War II novel The Glass Room, returns to Czechoslovakia in this tense novel set during the country’s short-lived period of independence from Soviet rule in 1968.
It follows a nervy, cross-class romance between Oxford undergraduates James and Ellie, who release some of the sexual tension they’ve built up while co-starring in a student play when they hitch-hike across Europe for the summer.
Visiting Prague to experience President Alexandr Dubcek’s dream of Communism without tyranny, the story of their testy relationship merges with that of Sam, a young British diplomat sampling local hospitality with student activist Lenka...
James and Ellie’s sparring is always engaging, while Mawer’s prose is crisp, electrified by a sense of menace as the Soviets prepare to invade."
From Sunday Mirror, 29/7/2018
"The tumultuous events of 1968 make a fascinating backdrop to this intelligent drama that follows the fortunes of four people caught up in the Russian invasion. Superbly written, poignant and polished, this story will haunt you."
From The Scotsman, 28/7/2018
"Mawer is an assured and very professional novelist... he is also deeply versed in the history and literature of what was, if only for some 60-odd years, Czechoslovakia, and he writes with an authority that derives from this knowledge.
Half-way throught the novel, I was thinking that it had neither the icy and disturbing elegance of what I have thought to be Mawer's best novel, The Glass House (sic!), nor the compelling plot of Trapeze and its sequel Tightrope and judged that it might be only a rather superior example of the Cold War school of Le Carré... By the end, I realized that it had got beyond that, and not only because the narrative of the takeover of the city by the Russians and their "fraternal" allies is masterly and chilling: in short, I concluded that it is as good as anything Simon Mawer has written; which means it is very good indeed."
From Readers Digest, 26/7/2018
...a cracking fictional tale set in a beautifully-researched (and very well-chosen) slice of history.
The setting is Prague in 1968 where the Czech experiment to build "socialism with a human face" means people can now speak their mind about life under Communism. But for how long?...
...Needless to say, the reader is always aware that the political and social excitement Mawer captures so well was tragically misplaced. Yet, knowing more than the characters do only serves to crank up the tension - and to make their optimism all the more heart-rending - as the climactic invasion approaches.
From Kirkus Reviews, 21/8/2018
"...Mawer (Tightrope, 2012, etc.), playing a neat cat-and-mouse game with the reader, gradually turns up the temperature of the novel, shaking us out of our comfort zones with a surge of dark events...
"As the Soviet threat intensifies and Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek's bold promise of "socialism with a human face" fades, the characters' personal lives and the past traumas that inform them are put in a new perspective. "What had Lenka and her friends, with their 15 minutes of freedom, imagined would happen?" comments the third-person narrator. "This was reality. The last eight months had been but a dream."
Making a strong return to the Eastern European setting of his acclaimed novel The Glass Room (2009), British author Mawer limns the Cold War to affecting and ultimately chilling effect."
From Publishers Weekly, 1/10/2018
"Mawer is marvelous at historical detail, and danger mounts in a way that keeps the pages turning, but though one of the characters falls victim to the violence and disappears, in the end there are no traitors and no real heroes, nor are any moral choices demanded of those who remain. These are love stories, with plenty of sex, set in extreme circumstances. Though the book careens through some awkward dialogue and uneven character development, there are moments of clarity and beauty that readers will savor."