Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 17 Jul 2013
A midst WW1, two Central European Slavic ethnic groups, Czech and Slovak, banded together in a struggle to establish recognition. Their efforts gained traction with other European Powers, and with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new nation of Czechoslovakia was formed. Although the multi-ethnic environment amplified the problems that the young nation faced, Czechoslovakia soon evolved to be a highly democratic and highly industrialized country. Josef Korbel was a diplomat working for the foreign ministry of Czechoslovakia, splitting his time between Prague, the capital, and Belgrade in Yugoslavia where he was a member of the embassy. In 1937, his daughter Marie Jana "Madlenka" Korbelová was born; later known by the French pronunciation of her nickname and by her husband's family name, the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recounted the history of this country with her book Prague Winter.
Though not wanting to start this review on a negative note, I could not betray my feeling that this was indeed an example where the title of the book did not accurate reflect the content. Judging on "A Personal Story of Remembrance and War", I had looked forward to a history of the Korbel family, eager to learn about the kind of surroundings in which a senior US stateswoman was raised. What the book turned out to be, however, was much more so a history of Czechoslovakia, occasionally interspersed with the experiences of the Korbel family. Though by no means a poor history, I finished the book slightly unsatisfied. Nonetheless, this book was well-researched, presenting a clear (albeit with some hint of bias) picture of how Czech and Slovak leaders brought the infant nation to maturity, but only to be betrayed by Britain and France during the year leading up to the European War of WW2, and then fell behind the Iron Curtain after the end of the war. Although Prague Winter had a wide scope, thus the author could not dive overly deep on any one topic, it was a good primer, to say the least, on the history of a country which I had only limited knowledge previously, allowing names like Jan Masaryk, Klement Gottwald, and others, for example, to enter my notes for further research. Sure that I was disappointed by the shortcoming in the "personal story" department of this book, but the well-presented history of Czechoslovakia made up for it.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book format. I was pleased to see that the author, Madeleine Albright, had decided to read the book herself, something that I always enjoyed, as no one would know the underlying tone behind every sentence as well as the person who wrote them. I caught some mis-pronunciations and inconsistent pronunciations, particularly with certain German proper nouns such as Luftwaffe and Reich, but overall she did a great job with clarity a proper pace, no doubt the result of her many years as a public figure.
Having such cursory knowledge on Czechoslovakia, I could not say whether Prague Winter compared well with other titles on this topic. However, I did learn quite a bit from this book, and I always appreciate learning new things; for that, I would indeed recommend this title to WW2DB visitors.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939