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March 14, 2014

The charming NYC guidebook the Czech secret police didn’t want you to see

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New York: A Mod Portrait of the City

Fifty years after it was first written and illustrated, a stylish book about life in New York City is getting a new life of its own. The book, New York: A Mod Portrait of the City, was written by Zdenĕk Mahler and illustrated by Vladímir Fuka in 1964, and published in Czechoslovakia in 1968. But after Fuka escaped to the United States, the secret police destroyed the entire print run of the book.

According to The Daily Beast, the original manuscript and illustrations were rediscovered after a conversation between Mahler and his grandson, Simon, about 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.”

Simon, who now lives in New York, encouraged his grandfather to republish the book, and he did, in the Czech Republic, in 2008. Universe, an imprint of Rizzoli, has translated the book into English, with updated information, and it’s now available in the UK and North America as well. The whimsical drawings are a perfect glimpse of a Mad Men-era New York by two foreign visitors seeing it for the first time. “Coming to New York, especially from Eastern Europe, must have been an incredible moment,” Simon Mahler told The Daily Beast.

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Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.

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