New Europe Books, 2013
Not long ago, John Shirting held down a beloved job at Capo Coffee Family, a coffee chain and global business powerhouse. When he is deemed ‘too passionate’ about his job, he is let go. Shirting makes it his mission to return to the Capo’s fold by single-handedly breaking into a new market, and making the city of Prague safe for free-market capitalism. Unfortunately, his college nemesis, Theodore Mizen, a certified socialist, has also moved to Prague, and is determined to reverse the Velvet Revolution, one folk song at a time.
It is not long before Shirting’s grasp on his mission and, indeed, his sanity, come undone, leaving him at the mercy of half-bit mafioso, and his own shadow self.
A combination of Monster Magazine and Lord of the Barnyard, with a jigger of Confederacy of Dunces, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe is a dark farce about globalism, expatriates and coffee.
“Difficult to put down, unsettling yet addictive, the novel is a must-read for anyone who dares to peek behind the postcard image of a famously beautiful centre of European civilization.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Mr. Ellis has fashioned a delightful, and ultimately moving, traipse through
Middle Europe in bitingly satiric prose reminiscent of Joseph Heller, David Markson, and Alexander Theroux at their most playful. A pleasure.” —Joshua Cody, author of [sic]: A Memoir
“Former barista John Shirting from Chicago, an expat in the hallucinatory Prague of the Nineties, stands in the good company of Ignatius J. Reilly, Chauncey Gardener, and Forrest Gump as a remarkable and original member of that autistic and exclusive club. In creating Shirting, Mr. Ellis has enriched the literature of estrangement and given us a marvelous portrait of postcommunist Prague in its heady and wild rush into capitalism. This novel is a worthy addition to both expatriate writing and Czech storytelling, managing also to reflect in its rollicking drive profound insights into the ideologies of the last century.”
—Andrei Codrescu, NPR contributor and author of So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems and New Orleans, Mon Amour
“Don’t let the title fool you. The bedlam here is never kept at bay for very long. Ellis writes with manic, overcaffeinated energy about the wild westernization of Prague after the fall of the Iron Curtain and he captures that era perfectly. A strong and lively debut.” —Andrew Ervin, author of Extraordinary Renditions
“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
“Thanks to Ellis’s wickedly good writing and laser-like focus on the absurdities of expat life, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café is an arresting, hilarious, and thoroughly enjoyable novel—both a vivid portrait of an already-bygone era and an up-to-the-minute snapshot of civilization in decline.”—Katherine Shonk, author of Happy Now?
“This book comes highly recommended along with the cliched statement, ‘If you’re going to read one book this year, have it be . . .’ Bedlam is chock full of hilarious set-pieces, strange characters, biting satire, and verbal bombast. . . . It is not only wonderfully written, but it is a book that has wide cross-over appeal. The Andrei Codrescu blurbs on the front and back cover give it the needed NPR hipster bona fides, but this is also a light comedy one can read on the beach, at the airport, and elsewhere.”
—Karl Wolff, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
Visit KEEPING BEDLAM AT BAY IN THE PRAGUE CAFE’s Amazon page here.
PETRA K AND THE BLACKHEARTS
New Europe Books, February 2014
Miniaturized show-dragons whose futures are traded like stocks, automatons with minds of their own, a palace haunted by alchemists, and a neighborhood that is home to criminals and sorcerers alike. Welcome to the world of the Black Hearts, a gang of children bound together by the need to survive in a brutal world where the powers that be are especially cruel to those who do not conform to their authoritarian rule. Based in legends of ‘magic Prague’ and in the reality of its former Socialist regime, the trilogy focuses on ten-year-old Petra K, the daughter of a shut-in mother, who becomes the master of a dragonka that everybody in the city of Pava wants to get their hands on. In the complicated world of sorceresses, gypsies, child gangs, and secret police, Petra K needs to decide who to trust, and who to betray in order to keep herself and her pet safe. But revolution is in the air, and Petra K too is caught up in its pull, becoming separated from her family, and aligning herself with the Black Hearts. During this dark chapter of Pava’s history, magic is banned and personal freedoms are stripped. Only the Black Hearts dare to defy the new dictator’s rule, selling potions to survive, while thwarting the government’s effort’s to further oppress Pava. Along with the Black Hearts, Petra K faces a murderous pack of mechanical dragonka, a phantom secret agent, and, most harrowing, her own weaknesses as she transforms from an impassive follower into a child revolutionary. Will the Black Hearts’ adventures and courage inspire the terrified population of the city to rise up again, and return Pava to a place of prosperity, where dragonka run free?
“Ellis’s . . . years living in Eastern Europe give this steampunk fantasy, first in a planned trilogy, a strong sense of place and an unerring ear for the newspeak of totalitarianism. Archibald the Precious, a child dictator known to the Youth Groups that revere him as the ‘Number One Play Pal,’ takes the reins in Pava, the crumbling city-state in which Petra K lives. . . . Ellis’s pacing and plotting abilities show considerable gifts as Petra draws closer to the secret of Archibald’s power.” —Publishers Weekly
“A breathless . . . adventure pits a poor, fatherless girl against all sides in a battle for a dragon’s heart and a city’s freedom. . . . Meticulously imagined, Petra’s city is built on ancient layers of cultures and traditions, with magic woven into its fabric. . . .[A] remarkable and distinctive offering for devoted fantasy fans.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This marks the first in a series aimed to reinvigorate the ‘Old World,’ and its strength lies in its sense of place, as Pava’s twisting alleyways have the feel of ancient Venice, where any shadow might conceal a thief or a bit of magic. . . . [F]or readers looking for a light mystery with a dash of fantasy, this book will open the door to an imaginative world.” —BooklistOnline.com
“If you’re ready to go take a walk on the wildside and meet creatures you haven’t even imagined before, this is the book to take you there. You might want to read it during the day… Happy reading.” —Jo Ann Hakola, Independent Online Booksellers Association
“Mocked at school and neglected at home, young Petra K finds sanctuary in the streets of Pava, where forbidden magic is still practiced, mechanized automatons hawk their wares, and miniature dragons run wild. . . . The blend of magic and machinery is eerily intriguing, much as in William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. Petra K is a stalwart but accessible heroine—her struggles with her friends and her mother give her immediate appeal while her transformation from schoolgirl to revolutionary is authentically bumpy, occurring in fits and starts as she is plagued by doubts and miscalculations. . . . [S]haring this as a classroom or family readaloud may . . . spur some thoughtful discussion about love, loss, and loyalty.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
STRANGE AS ANGELS: A Tale of Mood and Music
In 1985, at any given moment, there was some teenager in America sitting in front of their phonograph self-medicating with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. During that decade depression had yet to become a topic of national discussion; Prozac had yet to be widely prescribed—depression had yet to go mainstream. But the issue was being addressed in a genre of punk and new wave, which provided a substitute vocabulary for a generation that yet had to assimilate the language of depression. Bands like The Smiths, Violent Femmes, Tears for Fears, and The Cure spoke to emotional distress in a way that was unique to pop music and hastened the uptake of underground music by the mainstream.
STRANGE AS ANGELS is a memoir of teenage melancholy as well as a fan’s notes on a handful of bands in the eighties that were important in a way that record sales did not reflect. The narrative follows a year in the author’s life when the vagaries of first love and melancholy blurred into one—when songs had an urgency that seemed both profound and redemptive. STRANGE AS ANGELS is a semi-critical look at the ‘mope rock’ genre, a story of romantic obsession, as well as a defense of self-pity.
“AWESOME. Right up there w/ Rick Moody & Salinger. I’ll definitely be sharing this one w/ friends ~ great, great read!” —Outreach Arts
“A brilliant timepiece weaving post-punk music and public events (aka suicides) with a personal story of depression pre-prozac. a memoir would normally work against itself these days, a genre riddled with insularity and the guises of “truth”– but ‘strange as angels’ transcends the genre and could (in moments) be filed under cultural studies. writing with a tenderness and quietude that the other ellis (bret easton) does not, M. Henderson seamlessly captures the time period while telling his story of teen depression and tenuous connections.” —Amazon reviewer Kate
“The fact that I’m writing this review is pretty impressive (well, it is to me) because to be honest, I don’t like Kindle. I mean, I kind of like the idea of Kindle, though I am enough of a 20th century girl to prefer the feel of a book’s binding between my fingers, and the way I can cuddle up with it on the couch (hard to do, especially when you get the Kindle on your pc). But what I mean is, reading on the computer makes me nauseous, like riding in a car does. So the fact that I started this book, am 25% of the way through, and am MAKING myself keep going, despite the queasiness, is testament to the fact that this guy can write!!! And I don’t mean just put words on paper, but put them down so that you know you’re reading something that is really, really special. It’s a story of a guy in the 80s, and… actually, I’m going to stop right there. Because I don’t think my descriptions can do this book justice. It’s about a guy in the 80’s, and if you were ever that, or knew someone who was ever that, or if you weren’t and didn’t but at least you don’t get sick from your Kindle, then I highly recommend you read this book. Now excuse me, I have to find my Dramamine so I can get to 26%.” —Amazon Reviewer A. Cooper
As a Translator:
THE DEVIL IS A BLACK DOG: Stories from the Middle East and Beyond
New Europe Books, 2015; Scribe Publications (Great Britain, Australia), 2015; Speaking Tiger (India), 2016
In the nineteen extraordinary stories that comprise The Devil Is a Black Dog and Other Stories, the writer shows us the human side of war and revolution in the contemporary Middle East and Africa, and of the social upheaval that has held Eastern Europe in its grip since the fall of communism. Characters contemplate the meaning of home, love, despair, family, and friendship against the backdrop of brutality. From Cairo to the Gaza Strip, from Benghazi to Budapest, religious men have their faith challenged, and people under the duress of war or traumatic personal memories deal with the feelings that emerge. Often they seem to suppress these feelings . . . but, no, not quite.
Set in countries the author has reported from or lived in, these stories are all told from different perspectives, but always with the individual at the center: the mother, the soldier, the martyr, the religious man, the journalist, and so on. They form a kaleidoscope of miniworlds, of moments, of decisions that together put a face, an emotion, a thought behind humans who confront war and conflict. Although they are fiction, they could have all happened exactly as they are told. Each story leaves a powerful visual image, an unforgettable image you conjure up again and again.
Visit The Devil is a Black Dog’s Amazon page here.
Read the Pushcart Prize nominated story “The Blake Precept” from There Devil is a Black Dog here.
Read the Pushcart Prize nominated story “The Devil is a Black Dog” here.
“It should be noted, too, that the visceral force of these scenes is a credit to Matt Henderson Ellis, who has preserved the potency of the Hungarian original in its English translation.” —The Quarterly Conversation
“…translated into English by Matt Henderson Ellis, captures the darkness masterfully” —Tibor Fischer, The Guardian
“Matt Henderson Ellis does a fine job of translating the author’s work. The poetry of his expression is not lost in translation.” —Saltypopcorn.com
“Matt Henderson Ellis’s excellent translation – spare, limpid – lends the prose an almost Hemingwayesque quality.” —Adam Lebor, the Times Literary Supplement