Through playful poetic prose, imaginatively blending historical and cultural motifs with autobiographical moments, Daniela Hodrová shares her unique perception of Prague. A Kingdom of Souls is the first volume of this author’s literary journey — an unusual quest for self, for one’s place in life and in the world, a world that for Hodrová is embodied in Prague.
I actually approached the publisher for a review copy of this novel. This is unusual as I normally receive my review copies via Netgalley or Edelweiss, but this is a book about Prague and I am a Czechophile. Prague of course was influential on magic realism, given the importance of Kafka. Indeed this is the fourth magic-realist book I have reviewed on this site that features that great city. As in many of Meyrink's writings the central character of this book is Prague and in particular a small area of Prague focused on an apartment block overlooking the Olsany cemetery.
I am writing this review in my Czech home in South Bohemia. In the shops and supermarkets at this time of year the shelves are packed with candles and candle containers. Along the journey home last night I noticed candles burning at roadside shrines to the dead. We are drawing near to All Souls Night and the Czechs are getting ready to remember their ancestors. The souls in the title are of both the dead and the living. The two "live" alongside each other in the house and in the pantry and as most of the action takes place between the time of the Nazi occupation and the Velvet Revolution some characters move from the living to the dead in the novel. This is not however a ghost story but merely a presentation of a world in which the dead exist alongside the living. That this world should be in Prague is not a surprise to me. I too have felt the presence of history there and the presence of those who have walked the streets before me. Hodrová's portrayal of this other city is realistic to my mind.
This is an extraordinary book - erudite, moving and poetical. At times a non-Czech reader, even this one who is relatively familiar with the city, its history and culture, will have difficulties picking up all the references. It helps to read the Introduction, which explains some of them, but I would suggest that footnotes might have been useful. But even without catching all the references it is possible to enjoy this book. The Introduction tells us that Hodrová is interested in Jungian concepts. This is apparent throughout the book and her use of archetypal symbolism allows us to respond to themes, even if we do not consciously know the specific references.
As the Goodreads description states, this is the first volume in a series by this author all focusing on Prague. The publisher very kindly gave me copies of the two books published so far (Prague, I See A City being the other). I look forward to reading more.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in return for a fair review.