Excuse Me, Have We Met Before?

In early August of 1995, I was up in the Boston area, staying with my friends Katie and Marshall, as is my wont, since that's when Macworld Expo takes place, and I'm usually in need of a place to get rid of all those useless pieces of green paper they give me for coming to this box every day.

After a number of days of overdosing on Macintoshen, it was time to head home. Before I hit the road, though, I wanted to stop in a couple of stores in Cambridge. I picked up a couple of Dilbert t-shirts at Cybersmith, the trendy new cafe/Internet access provider just off Harvard Square, then headed across the street to the Globe Corner Bookstore, a wonderful travel bookstore chock full of books and maps and travel accessories and other such stuff. They're so comprehensive that they even have language courses in Colloquial Ukrainian, something I've never seen at Barnes & Noble. I wanted to see if they had a copy of a book of Czech literature that I had left behind with my friend Nora in Prague a few weeks earlier. No such luck. But I did find a book written by an American journalist who had moved to Prague a few months after the revolution that looked vaguely interesting. I still had a few dollars in my pocket, so I bought it.

That night, back home in New Jersey, I was pretty tired and ready to hit the sack. I pulled the book out of the bag to look through it before I turned out the lights. As I read through the first chapter, I found that the story sounded very familiar. Each detail seemed curiouser and curiouser. Nora is a Czech-American, born in Prague in early 1968. Her family left the country in late 1968, for obvious reasons, and eventually moved to America, settling in California (with a few interim stops elsewhere). She had moved to Prague with her sister Nike about six months after the revolution. The author of the book moved to Prague with his Czech-American girlfriend "Nikola" and her sister "Dora" about six months after the revolution. Nora had originally gone on a trip to Prague in December, 1989, while the revolution was going on, and stayed with her uncle, returning home only to move back to Prague a few months later. On the train into Czechoslovakia, "Dora" used some Czechoslovak currency left over from a trip to the country a few months previous. The author and his companions stayed with the girls' uncle when they first arrived in Prague. Nora and "Dora" both got jobs teaching English to elementary school pupils, as did "Nikola" and the author. It seemed kind of odd that the author had made such slight changes to their names if in fact this was my friend and her sister, but the coincidences seemed overwhelming.

I sent Nora e-mail the following morning asking if she knew the author and explaining that I was struck by how familiar the story seemed. She confirmed that indeed, she and her sister were the "Nikola" and "Dora" of the book. She knew the book existed, but hadn't actually read it, and given her opinion of the author, isn't likely to think very highly of it if she does. (I've since sent her a copy of the book, but haven't asked for her opinion of it.)

I must say it's a very odd sensation to start reading a book purchased by chance and gradually realize as you're reading it that one of the main characters is a friend of yours.

(No, I'm not going to give the title of the book. I'm sure Nora wouldn't want it to sell any more copies on her back....)

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