Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café tells the story of John Shirting, a socially inept, quiet young American who has left his country for mysterious reasons and, in a fast-changing capital of Eastern Europe, resolves to recreate one aspect of society in his own, crazily capitalist image. He makes it his mission to return to the frothy fold of the Chicago-based chain of cafes that once employed him, as a barista—Capo—by singlehandedly breaking into a new market and making freshly post-communist Prague safe for free-market capitalism. Full of smart writing, cynical humor, and eccentric characters, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is a brilliant satire. Poised to be an underground classic, it asks: what does it mean to be sane in a fast-changing world?
M. Henderson Ellis, the author of Petra K and the Blackhearts (New Europe Books), is a graduate of Bennington College and a Chicago native who currently lives in Budapest, Hungary.
"An ode to expatriate living, culture clashes, and the heady days of early 1990s Europe, this novel is a manic, wild ride.... [D]arkly comic ... immersive, nostalgic, and thoroughly enjoyable." —Booklist
"With fresh and evocative language, Ellis delivers us into a frenetic and history-haunted world. By turns strange and subtle, imaginative and knowing—and also often very funny—this assured and original debut novel is a must-read for anyone, like me, who ever daydreamed about expat life in 1990s Eastern Europe but didn't have the nerve to go for it." —Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking With Men, Drink columnist, New York Times Magazine
"As the title suggests, disorder predominates in Ellis's debut novel set in Prague during the dizzying days of the early 1990s. John Shirting is a quirky and unbalanced former barista from Chicago with a pill habit who winds up in the newly capitalist city hawking a plan to establish a chain of mobster-themed coffee shops... . The picaresque absurdity will be familiar to fans of Thomas Pynchon, along with the low-grade paranoia and aggressively whimsical dialogue... . . Ellis vividly re-creates the atmosphere of a city in the throes of transformation as well as the American Quixotes who populate this new frontier." —Publishers Weekly