Books & Literature

Book Review: Alice to Prague, by Tanya Heaslip

The charming true story of an outback girl who finds adventure – and love – on the other side of the world

A beautiful book for those who love travel, romance, history, autobiographies, or just a good yarn!

What a wonderful book Tanya Heaslip has written for us to enjoy.

Heaslip grew up on a cattle station in Central Australia. She has two brothers, a beloved sister and adored parents. Her childhood was full of cattle mustering, roaming the desert in the Australian heat and school lessons via the radio. As a child she dreamed of travelling to the faraway places she had only read about in books. Places where there were lakes and green meadows and rain.

After studying law and becoming a lawyer in Australia, Heaslip left this safe life in 1989 and headed overseas for a year, despite the misgivings of her family and friends.

While backpacking around Europe, she hears about the fall of the Berlin wall. She makes her way to Germany to be part of this monumental part of history. Eventually she heads home but adventure still calls.

In 1994, five years later, Tanya finds herself following her dream. She arrives in Sedlčany, a small town in the Czech Republic, in front of a high school class and having to teach them English, despite having no experience whatsoever. She falls back on music, which she has always loved. Even though she is not really a musician, her knowledge of a few guitar chords helps her to teach the children by singing some of our beloved Australian songs, like Waltzing Matilda.

Post-communist Czech Republic is a far cry from the desert of central Australia. The winters are freezing, the post-communist housing is stark and the people are not long out of living under a government which completely controlled everything in your life. Heaslip has to navigate a new country without any local language. She describes the difficulties of finding work when you can’t understand anything being said, buying food, catching public transport and generally finding your way in a place completely different to anything you have ever experienced.

After a chance meeting, she eventually finds herself in Prague and her life totally changes again. This is where she finds a new job, new friends and a new love. She is now living in the city of her dreams.

Heaslip is on a very steep learning curve and, as she searches for her real self, she learns many life lessons along the way. But we also find out about the joys of discovering new places and meeting new friends, the small successes in a world of uncertainty as she navigates the unknown. Many of her preconceived notions are completely tipped on their head. We are introduced to the wonderful people she meets along the way, the help and love found in the most unlikely places. We are immersed in this love and the discovering of lifelong friendships.

I loved this book. I laughed, cried, learnt new things about a country, and their history. It also gave me a great deal of empathy for those people who have come to Australia to start a new life, leaving everything they own and everyone they love behind – all the little things we take for granted in a place we know well. How hard it is for them to not be surrounded by memories, loved ones and places which hold familiarity. To have to make their way in a country where the language is different and everything you do is foreign.

Most of us have no idea what it is like to live under a communist regime. Alice to Prague gives a glimpse of this life including the mixed emotions when the citizens of these countries found themselves having to make their own decisions.

Alice to Prague has real heart. It is well written, easy to read and has the ability to let us imagine exactly what she is writing about. I saw the castles, the austere apartment blocks, the underground smoke-filled bars and snow-filled streets.

This is a wonderful story and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys an autobiography with heart, history, a good romance, or a travel book: Alice to Prague has it all.

Read it now.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: May 2019
RRP: $29.99

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