In 1968, an innocent guidebook fell victim to the Cold War. Its whimsical drawings and poetic lines devoted to New York City were destroyed by the Czechoslovakian secret police—all but one copy, that is. Nearly 50 years later, the grandson of its author found the original manuscript buried in an old wardrobe, and this week, it entered American circulation for the first time ever.
During the summer of 2008, Simon Mahler was home in Prague from his sophomore year at Harvard and was gushing to his grandfather, Zdenĕk, how much he loved visiting New York City. His grandfather casually mentioned that he and a friend had once written a book about the metropolis.
And so their search began. They dug through a wardrobe in his grandfather's converted-attic study, pulling out stacks of manuscripts, and located the one the elder Mahler referred to tucked away in an envelope. Inside was a stack of papers with drawings glued on and handwritten text for the storyline. What Mahler and his friend, an artist named Vladímir Fuka, had drafted some 44 years ago was a whimsical, poetic guide to NYC called, "New York: A Mod Portrait of the City."
"When I saw it I thought it was absolutely incredible and a huge shame it never published," says Mahler, who's now 27 and works in finance in New York City. "I thought it was ridiculous something like this was going to be lying in some stack of paper, so I told him he should try to have someone publish it." In 2008, a Czech publisher released an updated version of the 85-year-old author's book, and on Tuesday, an American publisher did the same.