Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Other City, Michal Ajvaz (translated by Gerald Turner)

I was walking up and down the rows of books at the antiquarian bookseller's in Karlova Street. Now and then I would take a look out the shop window. It started to snow heavily; holding a book in my hand I watched the snowflakes swirling in front of the wall of St Savior's Church. I returned to my book, savoring its aroma and allowing my eyes to flit over its pages, reading here and there the fragment of a sentence that suddenly sparkled mysteriously because it was taken out of context. I was in no hurry; I was happy to be in a room that smelled pleasantly of old books, where it warm and quiet, where the pages rustled as they were turned, as if the books were sighing in their sleep. I was glad I didn't have to go out into the darkness and the snowstorm.

I'm not really sure what I think of this book. It's provocative, that's for sure. The Other City is "a guidebook to this invisble 'other Prague', overlapping the workaday world: a place where libraries can turn into jungles, secret passages yawn beneath our feet, and waves lap at our this strange and lovely hymn to Prague, Michal Ajvaz repopulates the city of Kafka with ghosts, eccentrics, talking animals, and impossible statues, all lurking on the peripheries of a town so familiar to tourists." Sometimes the language of the book could be beautiful, other times, downright absurd (though in a good way.) This one is probably better read out loud, so you can savor the sentences and the feel of them in your mouth. In some ways, The Other City reminded me of a Czech version of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (they even have a similar first name!) It also tells of a world lurking just behind the city; a strange and crazy world with peculiar creatures, people, and rites. That said, I think I enjoyed The Master and Margarita more. This one could be just a bit too crazy at times, and was sort of rambling. But I did really enjoy the sentences.

Our narrator. He/she is never identified (though I think the narrator is a man.) It was effective, though of course I was longing to know the narrator's identity. But the narrator isn't the important part. It's what he  witnesses as he traverses the mysterious "other city."

Read The Other City:
  • if you like strange fiction/fantasy
  • if you like Czech fiction
  • if you liked The Master and Margarita
168 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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