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Not long ago, John Shirting--quiet young Chicagoan, wizard of self-medication--held down a beloved job as a barista 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 frothy Capo’s fold by singlehandedly breaking into a new market and making freshly post-communist Prague safe for free-market capitalism. Unfortunately, his college nemesis, Theodore Mizen, a certified socialist, has also moved there, and is determined to reverse the Velvet Revolution, one folk song at a time. After Shirting experiences the loss of his sole “new-hire” -- a sad, arcade game-obsessed prostitute -- it is not long before his grasp on his mission and, indeed, his sanity, comes undone, leaving him at the mercy of two-bit Mafiosi, a pair of Golem trackers, and his own disgruntled phantom.
Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café captures the ambiance of expat Prague as it asks : what does it mean to be sane in a fast-changing world?
“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
“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
“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 post communist 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, author of So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems and New Orleans, Mon Amour
“John Shirting, master of mission statements and misfit of the planet, makes his way to Prague to offer change that's not needed. A loveable mess, he lives in the past while trying to escape it, often unable to tell whether he’s getting better or worse, but his obsession with building a global outpost of the American coffee chain that fired him keeps him moving forward. Ellis has written a hilarious hallucinatory satire, built on shots of caffeine.” – Amanda Stern, author of The Long Haul