Goulash

A Novel

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Paperback
$19.00 US
On sale Jan 21, 2020 | 224 Pages | 978-0-345-80337-5
A novel that stirs together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth to bring to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city

Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott Black moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It’s 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the shadow of communism and into the wilds of twenty-first-century capitalism. Elliott meets his students in a variety of pubs and conducts his lessons over pints of local Radegast beer. He gets his shoes stolen by an experimental artist who engages Elliott in a number of eccentric schemes. And he meets Amanda, an English teacher from the theUnited Kingdom, with whom he falls in love.

Together, Elliott and Amanda try to make a place for themselves as strangers in this strange land. They explore the dark history and surprising wonders of their adopted city, touring the twisting ancient streets and encountering expats, movie stars, tobacco executives, a former Soviet informant, and the president of Poland. But the forces that are reshaping the city are also at work on them, and eventually it becomes evident that their idyll must end—that change is the only reality one can’t outrun.


“Brian Kimberling’s brisk, funny novel [is] set approximately 10 years after Czech independence, when Westernization had turned the country into a confused and unwholesome stew of capitalism and communism . . . The writing is smart, the quips are amusing . . . The story exudes . . . raffish charm.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Goulash by Brian Kimberling entertained me so much . . . Kimberling, who lived the expat nightmare, has a droll, quirky take on the scene . . . Goulash made me want another serving.” Bethanne Patrick, Lit Hub

“A quirky, funny, melancholy portrait of a significant European moment, captured by this most subtle of Americans abroad.” —Tessa Hadley, author of The Past and Late in the Day
 
Goulash is a hilarious novel about a man’s quest for a home in a place full of challenges and lots of beer—Prague, 1998. Wonderful dialogue, endearing characters, and a deep sense of the historical forces at work combine in all the best ways to make this story really delectable.” —Jessica Francis Kane, author of This Close and The Report 

“A vivid picture of a city creaking and shuddering as it settles into a new dispensation . . . This novel is quick to read, but its compelling pictures and insights will linger in the mind.” —Claire Hopley, The Washington Times

“A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Kimberling . . . is an exacting wordsmith capable of elegantly simple sentences, and his narrator’s observations are often dryly hilarious . . . A remarkable evocation of time and place.” —Booklist
ROSARY

First it was my shoes. They went missing from outside my flat, where I left them slathered in mud after a lonely late-winter walk through the countryside northwest of Prague. I bought a new pair and forgot the old until they appeared two weeks later in the window of an art gallery, as part of an installation with an asking price of over six thousand dollars, converted from Czech crowns.
 
At least they had been cleaned. On the other hand holes had been drilled through the soles so that they could be strung like beads with other shoes and a number of books onto a vertical rope fastened to a repurposed manhole cover on the gallery’s hardwood floor and affixed at the top to the ceiling. The result­ing column sagged lightly as it rose. My shoes had become part of an exotic and erudite tree. I couldn’t be sure they were mine without closer examination, so I went inside.
 
In small print under the price tag I saw that the artist respon­sible for Rosary went only by the initials D.K. My shoes were of extravagant American provenance compared to the evidently Central and Eastern European shoes; moreover they were size 14, sensibly deployed near the bottom of the tree, and sand­wiched between something in German and a military history book in English. All of the shoes and books looked used. All the major European languages were represented. The shoes were black and brown; the books red and blue and purple and orange.
 
At a desk in a corner sat a compact individual of indetermi­nate gender with shoulder-length sandy hair and a pale face, delicate hands emerging from a man’s shirtsleeves splayed on the desk. I hoped they spoke English.
 
“Excuse me,” I said. “You have my shoes in your window.”
 
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” they said, distinctly more tenor than alto.
 
“I’m sure I’m not,” I said.
 
“I’m sure the artist in question steals only the shoes of other artists.”
 
“My shoes went missing two weeks ago and now they’re in your window. I can prove that they are mine.”
 
“How do you propose to do that?”
 
“My name is inside them.”
 
“And why is your name inside them?”
 
“My mother put it there.”
 
He raised a lone eyebrow. I began to feel like a suspect accused of an unspecified crime.
 
“I see. And how old are you?”
 
“Twenty-three.”
 
“This mother, she travels with you?”
 
“No.”
 
“Shame. She could perhaps teach you not to insult people in European art galleries.”
 
“It says Elliott Black on the inside tongue of each shoe. Little label she stitched in. Just have a look.”
 
“If you wish to purchase the item you can do whatever you like with it.” He seemed pained behind the comic façade, as if he had never met an American with such limited funding that a pair of shoes could be a matter of legitimate concern.
 
“I don’t want the shoes back now. They’re ruined. But I would like to know how they got here.”
 
“You say your shoes were stolen?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I am sorry to hear it. Crime in our country is not like crime in your country.”
 
“What does that even mean?” I said. I could also see that in his country the customer was not always right.
 
“I can’t help you, Mr. Black. You are just visiting?”
 
“I teach English.”
 
“You are a lucky man. How long have you been here?”
 
“About a month.”
 
“Then you have noticed that Prague is full of statues. Where there are statues there are artists. You can’t be too careful with your shoes.”
 
“That isn’t even a statue,” I said.
 
“Would you call it a monument?”
 
“I’ll bet those are all library books, too. I bet they have labels.”
 
“Sadly, investigating your hypothesis would entail disman­tling the object.”
 
“How can I track down this D.K. and ask how come he stole my shoes?”
 
“Are artists tracked down in America? How very enlighten­ing. Perhaps you could lure him into a trap with more shoes.”
 
“Is there someone else I can talk to?”
 
He made an elaborate show of looking around. In profile he had long sideburns and an improbably long, sharp nose. He reminded me of a meerkat sentry tasting the wind.
 
“I see no one.”
 
I looked around, too. The gallery also contained a work­ing pram made from papier-mâché pornography, a large wax bust of Lenin laughing, and several glass articles of no obvious appeal or utility. The remaining space was devoted to paintings.
 
“If you would like to complain to the manager,” he said, “I am listening.”
 
“You have to admit that I have a mystery here,” I said.
 
“Are your shoes comfortable?”
 
“What?”
 
“The ones you are wearing.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“The square toe suits you,” he said. “I generally think of Americans as sneaker people.”
 
“Oh, come on,” I said. “Cowboy boots.”
 
“Touché,” he said.
 
“Do you have a name?” I said.
 
“Certainly, Mr. Black. I am Mr. Cimarron.”
 
“Well, Mr. Cimarron, if you would tell Mr. D.K. that Mr. Black is annoyed I’d appreciate it.”
 
“I do not actually know that D.K. is a man,” he said. “My assistant handles weekend deliveries. Perhaps I infer it from the phallic nature of the work. Would you call it furniture?”
 
“I would call it my shoes.”
 
“The way it droops as it rises does suggest some performance anxiety, don’t you think?”
 
I was compelled to look at it again. Every shoe was pol­ished and every book spine uncracked; I could almost imagine somebody wanting it at the end of the sofa in a living room somewhere. Around it instead were gleaming floorboards, immaculate walls, a spotless window; outside young men and women in sportswear laughing, cars honking, history erased and replaced by this absurd artifact with no immediate mean­ing that I could detect.
 
“I prefer to think of it as a tree,” I said.
 
“A tree with performance anxiety. Your ideas are fascinating. Would you call it an entity?”
 
“I’d be dazzled if anyone created a thing that isn’t an entity.”
 
“Yet we can create entities that are not things.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“Or can we? You’re the English teacher.”
 
“Fine,” I said. “The rain is a thing that falls on the plain, mainly, also a thing, of Spain, which is more of an entity.”
 
“You illustrate my point beautifully. Poor Spain can’t fall on anything.”
 
“That doesn’t strike me as a point. And the plain is going to have trouble with that, too.”
 
“Is a point an entity or a thing?”
 
“Yes.”
 
We glared at each other.
 
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me the point of the thing,” I said, pointing at it.
 
He shrugged.
 
“To make money, of course.”
© Chris Banks
BRIAN KIMBERLING grew up in southern Indiana and spent several years working in the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Turkey before settling in England. He received an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University in 2010. Snapper, his first novel, was published in 2013. View titles by Brian Kimberling

About

A novel that stirs together the perfect proportions of humor, history, romance, and myth to bring to brilliant life a people, a time, and a city

Eager to escape stifling small-town Indiana, Elliott Black moves to Prague, where he gets a job teaching English. It’s 1998, and the Czech Republic is moving with increasing rapidity out of the shadow of communism and into the wilds of twenty-first-century capitalism. Elliott meets his students in a variety of pubs and conducts his lessons over pints of local Radegast beer. He gets his shoes stolen by an experimental artist who engages Elliott in a number of eccentric schemes. And he meets Amanda, an English teacher from the theUnited Kingdom, with whom he falls in love.

Together, Elliott and Amanda try to make a place for themselves as strangers in this strange land. They explore the dark history and surprising wonders of their adopted city, touring the twisting ancient streets and encountering expats, movie stars, tobacco executives, a former Soviet informant, and the president of Poland. But the forces that are reshaping the city are also at work on them, and eventually it becomes evident that their idyll must end—that change is the only reality one can’t outrun.


“Brian Kimberling’s brisk, funny novel [is] set approximately 10 years after Czech independence, when Westernization had turned the country into a confused and unwholesome stew of capitalism and communism . . . The writing is smart, the quips are amusing . . . The story exudes . . . raffish charm.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Goulash by Brian Kimberling entertained me so much . . . Kimberling, who lived the expat nightmare, has a droll, quirky take on the scene . . . Goulash made me want another serving.” Bethanne Patrick, Lit Hub

“A quirky, funny, melancholy portrait of a significant European moment, captured by this most subtle of Americans abroad.” —Tessa Hadley, author of The Past and Late in the Day
 
Goulash is a hilarious novel about a man’s quest for a home in a place full of challenges and lots of beer—Prague, 1998. Wonderful dialogue, endearing characters, and a deep sense of the historical forces at work combine in all the best ways to make this story really delectable.” —Jessica Francis Kane, author of This Close and The Report 

“A vivid picture of a city creaking and shuddering as it settles into a new dispensation . . . This novel is quick to read, but its compelling pictures and insights will linger in the mind.” —Claire Hopley, The Washington Times

“A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Kimberling . . . is an exacting wordsmith capable of elegantly simple sentences, and his narrator’s observations are often dryly hilarious . . . A remarkable evocation of time and place.” —Booklist

Excerpt

ROSARY

First it was my shoes. They went missing from outside my flat, where I left them slathered in mud after a lonely late-winter walk through the countryside northwest of Prague. I bought a new pair and forgot the old until they appeared two weeks later in the window of an art gallery, as part of an installation with an asking price of over six thousand dollars, converted from Czech crowns.
 
At least they had been cleaned. On the other hand holes had been drilled through the soles so that they could be strung like beads with other shoes and a number of books onto a vertical rope fastened to a repurposed manhole cover on the gallery’s hardwood floor and affixed at the top to the ceiling. The result­ing column sagged lightly as it rose. My shoes had become part of an exotic and erudite tree. I couldn’t be sure they were mine without closer examination, so I went inside.
 
In small print under the price tag I saw that the artist respon­sible for Rosary went only by the initials D.K. My shoes were of extravagant American provenance compared to the evidently Central and Eastern European shoes; moreover they were size 14, sensibly deployed near the bottom of the tree, and sand­wiched between something in German and a military history book in English. All of the shoes and books looked used. All the major European languages were represented. The shoes were black and brown; the books red and blue and purple and orange.
 
At a desk in a corner sat a compact individual of indetermi­nate gender with shoulder-length sandy hair and a pale face, delicate hands emerging from a man’s shirtsleeves splayed on the desk. I hoped they spoke English.
 
“Excuse me,” I said. “You have my shoes in your window.”
 
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” they said, distinctly more tenor than alto.
 
“I’m sure I’m not,” I said.
 
“I’m sure the artist in question steals only the shoes of other artists.”
 
“My shoes went missing two weeks ago and now they’re in your window. I can prove that they are mine.”
 
“How do you propose to do that?”
 
“My name is inside them.”
 
“And why is your name inside them?”
 
“My mother put it there.”
 
He raised a lone eyebrow. I began to feel like a suspect accused of an unspecified crime.
 
“I see. And how old are you?”
 
“Twenty-three.”
 
“This mother, she travels with you?”
 
“No.”
 
“Shame. She could perhaps teach you not to insult people in European art galleries.”
 
“It says Elliott Black on the inside tongue of each shoe. Little label she stitched in. Just have a look.”
 
“If you wish to purchase the item you can do whatever you like with it.” He seemed pained behind the comic façade, as if he had never met an American with such limited funding that a pair of shoes could be a matter of legitimate concern.
 
“I don’t want the shoes back now. They’re ruined. But I would like to know how they got here.”
 
“You say your shoes were stolen?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I am sorry to hear it. Crime in our country is not like crime in your country.”
 
“What does that even mean?” I said. I could also see that in his country the customer was not always right.
 
“I can’t help you, Mr. Black. You are just visiting?”
 
“I teach English.”
 
“You are a lucky man. How long have you been here?”
 
“About a month.”
 
“Then you have noticed that Prague is full of statues. Where there are statues there are artists. You can’t be too careful with your shoes.”
 
“That isn’t even a statue,” I said.
 
“Would you call it a monument?”
 
“I’ll bet those are all library books, too. I bet they have labels.”
 
“Sadly, investigating your hypothesis would entail disman­tling the object.”
 
“How can I track down this D.K. and ask how come he stole my shoes?”
 
“Are artists tracked down in America? How very enlighten­ing. Perhaps you could lure him into a trap with more shoes.”
 
“Is there someone else I can talk to?”
 
He made an elaborate show of looking around. In profile he had long sideburns and an improbably long, sharp nose. He reminded me of a meerkat sentry tasting the wind.
 
“I see no one.”
 
I looked around, too. The gallery also contained a work­ing pram made from papier-mâché pornography, a large wax bust of Lenin laughing, and several glass articles of no obvious appeal or utility. The remaining space was devoted to paintings.
 
“If you would like to complain to the manager,” he said, “I am listening.”
 
“You have to admit that I have a mystery here,” I said.
 
“Are your shoes comfortable?”
 
“What?”
 
“The ones you are wearing.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“The square toe suits you,” he said. “I generally think of Americans as sneaker people.”
 
“Oh, come on,” I said. “Cowboy boots.”
 
“Touché,” he said.
 
“Do you have a name?” I said.
 
“Certainly, Mr. Black. I am Mr. Cimarron.”
 
“Well, Mr. Cimarron, if you would tell Mr. D.K. that Mr. Black is annoyed I’d appreciate it.”
 
“I do not actually know that D.K. is a man,” he said. “My assistant handles weekend deliveries. Perhaps I infer it from the phallic nature of the work. Would you call it furniture?”
 
“I would call it my shoes.”
 
“The way it droops as it rises does suggest some performance anxiety, don’t you think?”
 
I was compelled to look at it again. Every shoe was pol­ished and every book spine uncracked; I could almost imagine somebody wanting it at the end of the sofa in a living room somewhere. Around it instead were gleaming floorboards, immaculate walls, a spotless window; outside young men and women in sportswear laughing, cars honking, history erased and replaced by this absurd artifact with no immediate mean­ing that I could detect.
 
“I prefer to think of it as a tree,” I said.
 
“A tree with performance anxiety. Your ideas are fascinating. Would you call it an entity?”
 
“I’d be dazzled if anyone created a thing that isn’t an entity.”
 
“Yet we can create entities that are not things.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“Or can we? You’re the English teacher.”
 
“Fine,” I said. “The rain is a thing that falls on the plain, mainly, also a thing, of Spain, which is more of an entity.”
 
“You illustrate my point beautifully. Poor Spain can’t fall on anything.”
 
“That doesn’t strike me as a point. And the plain is going to have trouble with that, too.”
 
“Is a point an entity or a thing?”
 
“Yes.”
 
We glared at each other.
 
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me the point of the thing,” I said, pointing at it.
 
He shrugged.
 
“To make money, of course.”

Author

© Chris Banks
BRIAN KIMBERLING grew up in southern Indiana and spent several years working in the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Turkey before settling in England. He received an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University in 2010. Snapper, his first novel, was published in 2013. View titles by Brian Kimberling

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