Mondays with Mike: The House in Prague

June 6, 2016 • Posted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

Some people talk about Holocaust fatigue—I’ve felt it myself.

Anna Perlberg reading-8

Anna Nessy Perlberg reads from The House in Prague. Photo by: Diana Phillips, courtesy Lincoln Park Village

And then I found myself in a beautiful apartment, on the 49th floor, with glorious views of Lake Michigan, noshing and celebrating the publication of The House in Prague, by Anna Nessy Perlberg.

The event was sponsored by Lincoln Park Village, and the fantastic space was provided by one of the Village’s generous members. Lincoln Park Village sponsors many of the writing classes Beth leads for older adults. That’s how Beth—and eventually I—met Anna: She is in one of Beth’s classes.

Beth’s posted about Anna before—and she’s heard, in person, Anna’s stories about her family being forced to uproot from a lovely home and a lovely life in Prague during the early days of Nazi occupation. Beth’s retold them to me.


Golden Alley Press published The House in Prague.

I’m inclined to say, here, “And you know the rest of the story.” I thought I did. And I did in a clinical sense. But hearing Anna read her accounts from The House in Prague—clean prose in the clear voice of Anna recollecting her nine-year-old self, describing what it was like to wake up in a great city that was stolen from its inhabitants. Soldiers outnumbering citizens on the streets. Cafes and other once-bustling hives of culture empty. Anna kissing the family home goodbye. Hair-raising brushes with the Gestapo. A stop in London. Ellis Island.

And a new life in New York City. Her father, a distinguished attorney who’d worked for President Masaryk in Prague, never practiced again. Her mother, an accomplished opera singer, lost her career. And little Anna saved up for a radio that she could tuck under her covers, to listen to the Hit Parade at night, trying to become an American girl just as fast as she could.

She did a helluva good job.

I could tell you more—the house itself is a story—but I recommend you get a copy of the House in Prague. I can’t really do it justice.

Moreover, hearing Anna tell her first-person stories of her idiyllic life in Prague, I was reminded that we’d like to think the forces that drove the Holocaust, modern day atrocities like Rwanda, or even our own history of slavery, are behind us.

But I don’t think anyone or any nation is immune. And so, maybe especially in the middle of some especially volatile election year rhetoric, it’s best that we all heed this passage from The House in Prague, recalling Anna and her mother sailing into the United States in 1939:

We stand together at the railing and watch as the harbor comes closer and closer. Mother lifts me up high to see the Statue of Liberty as clearly as possible. She says with a kind of fierceness, “Don’t ever forget this.”


Monna Ray On June 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm

See, Mike, you did it again. You brought tears to my eyes. Actually, its the third time today and I don’t usually cry. Anne Hunt a long time friend read a particularly moving essay in the class today. I knew she was having some trouble it was the first time I’d heard of a diagnosis. Its a sobering word. The third time I cried today was in reading a story in Ann Patchett’s book, “This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage”. The stories are a collection of writing done to provide a living before her novels became best sellers. It was the story of a happy marriage that brought tears. She’s had an unusual and varied life and she writes beautifully. I think you and Beth would enjoy this book. Monna

bethfinke On June 7, 2016 at 6:34 am

I adore Ann Patchett — can’t wait for her new book to come out later this year.

Joan Miller On June 6, 2016 at 5:52 pm

Wonderful story. I couldn’t put the book down. Joan Miller

9 things to throw away | Safe & Sound blog On June 19, 2016 at 12:09 pm

[…] honor of Anna Perlberg’s memoir, The House in Prague. Anna is a writer in one of my classes, and her memoir starts in present tense from her nine-year-old point of view. Writers could do an essay about themselves as nine-year-olds […]

Anne Hunt On June 30, 2016 at 4:05 pm

I got Anna’s book at her book reading, the week after my diagnosis of Alzheimers disease… I was having a hard time sleeping and spent a number of hours reading Anna’s book. It found myself thinking about what a wonderful life I’ve had — never having to endure anything nearly as traumatic as what Anna writes about. The courage of her family helped me get a grip on my situation — what I can control and what I cannot… I love being with Anna, who always greets me with a smile and comment about how happy she is to see me (and Bruce, who enjoys giving her rides to memoir class). Thanks also to Monna, my dear friend, who encouraged me to read Ann Patchett’s book — good reading when I wake up in the middle of the night or early in the morning… almost done with it. I will look for more from her…

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