Prague, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic)

Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Population of the city proper is 1.2 million, and an estimated 1.9 million live in the greater metropolitan area. Located on the Vltava (Moldau) River in the center of the country, Prague has been the center of the Czech state in every way for more than a millennium.


View of the Vltava flowing through center of Prague
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeView of the Vltava flowing through center of Prague - Credit: che


When the novel opens, shortly after Tomas and Tereza have met (roughly in 1961), Tomas works as a surgeon in Prague. Later, when the Communist regime forces him out of his position in medicine, he works in Prague as a window washer. Tomas and Sabina of course meet and begin their long-term affair in Prague, Tereza shoots photos of the Russian invaders and their “welcome” by the Czechs there, and eventually all three of the native Czech characters -- Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina -- escape the city for elsewhere: Tomas and Tereza for the country and Sabina to other nations.

Many images from around the city (for example, the Vltava, Prague Castle, Týn Church, the Old Town Hall, the Astronomical Clock, and Petrin Hill) may be found among the Bookmarks.


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Zurich, Switzerland
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeZurich - Credit: MadGeographer
Zurich at night
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeZurich at night - Credit: Andyindia

Not long after the 1968 Russian invasion, Tomas accepts a job at a hospital in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, sometimes regarded as the cultural capital of the country. (Berne is the political capital, and Geneva -- the second largest city -- is a center for world diplomacy.) Zurich is located in northern Switzerland, where the river Limmat flows from Lake Zurich, and is surrounded by wooded hills.

Zurich is a leading world financial center -- the headquarters of many banking institutions such as UBS and Credit Suisse, and the Swiss stock exchange. Several surveys in 2006-2008 named Zurich the city with the best quality of life in Europe as well as the wealthiest. It is also a center for the arts and culture: Carl Jung lived and died there; James Joyce is buried there; and Wagner, Einstein, and Thomas Mann all spent significant portions of their lives in Zurich.

Tereza goes with Tomas but Sabina also visits. Six or seven months later (probably early 1969), Tereza returns to Prague, and Tomas follows five days later.


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Geneva, Switzerland

After Zurich, Geneva is the second largest city in Switzerland. It is located near the far southwestern corner of the country, where the Rhône River leaves Lake Geneva on its way to France. Population is under 200,000, although 1.24 million live in the metropolitan area.

Geneva is a worldwide center for diplomacy and international relations. Many United Nations and Red Cross agencies have their headquarters here. This is where the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of noncombatants and prisoners of war, were signed.


View of Geneva with Mont Blanc in the distance
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeView of Geneva with Mont Blanc in the distance


Sabina is able to visit Tomas in Zurich because a gallery in Geneva hosted a showing of her paintings. She ends up moving here from Prague and meets Franz, who is a university lecturer in Geneva.


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Other Czech locations

At least five or six other towns in Czechoslovakia surface over the course of the plot, though none of them is specifically named. There is “a small Czech town,” said to be “near the mountains,” about 125 miles from Prague where Tomas meets Tereza and where she presumably grew up.

Another “small town known for its spa” where the streets and building have all been given Russian names is the couple’s destination during a brief escape following Tereza's sexual encounter with the engineer. After Tomas loses his job at the Prague hospital, he goes to work “at a country clinic about fifty miles from Prague,” and a year later finds a job at another clinic “on the outskirts of Prague.”

Finally, there is the village to which Tomas and Tereza escape permanently with the help of the farmer and chairman of the collective farm whom they ran into at the spa town several years before, and the neighboring town where they drive to go dancing at the hotel bar.