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Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers' Favorite
Paul Michael Simpson’s Eight Crowns to Brno is set in Czechoslovakia just as the country is being torn into two. James Craig, a young English teacher, is on the train to Brno, and gets his first experience of exotic Eastern Europe through a young Slovak and a cucumber. The year is 1992 and he is on the way to a job at the Star of Brno language school. His absurd English humor puts him on the wrong footing with his co-teacher Grenville, the grammar specialist. He also struggles with his English language students until he meets Ladka, a blabbermouth who eventually helps him discover the secrets of the city. As he settles in with debonair Scottish teacher Hadrian in an apartment, James develops a special bond/pact with Ladka who has a few secrets of her own waiting to be revealed.
Eight Crowns to Brno is certainly an entertaining and an informative read. As we follow James Craig’s trip to Brno, a little known city in the former Czechoslovakia, now known simply as Czech Republic, it is difficult not to be drawn into his life journey too. Without trying so hard, Paul Michael Simpson manages to come up with three-dimensional characters. It is amazing that all his characters are likable, even those who are decidedly the villains in the story. I find the pace of this narrative pleasant and the timing is excellent. Imagine a young and easygoing Englishman, teaching in a school in Eastern Europe where the most important recent investment is a guitar, surrounded by nosy students and a peculiar breed of teachers. The story, however, ends in an unexpected way that is both funny and profound.