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The Other City

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  333 ratings  ·  42 reviews
In 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. The Other City is a guidebook to this invisible,
"other Prague," overlapping the workaday world: a place where libraries
can turn into jungles, secret passages ya
...more
Paperback, 168 pages
Published June 11th 2009 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 905)
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Eddie Watkins
I always try to give authors the benefit of the doubt, as long as there appears to be a “serious” intention behind their work, and signs of an authentic imagination at work. If I read something and don’t initially like it, I’ll reevaluate my own approach and expectations, and will read up on the author a bit to get a sense of his/her intention and mindscape, and then I will begin the book again with an expanded version of my typically open mind. If it still doesn’t work for me, which is very rar ...more
Greg
Doubting my own integrity at liking Borges I started reading this book, which has big blind B's name right on the back. This is Borgesian or Borgesesque, or would it be Borgesish, I don't know, but this book is supposed to populate the same urban terrain as the Blind Bibliophile Bad Boy of Bookish Brilliance (or Bore, depending on your outlook). I don't know why I'm getting alliterative, it's dumb. Anyway, this is like Borges and maybe a little too much like Borges but without the philosophy stu ...more
Adam
Michal Ajvaz’s The Other City reminds me of Borges and Kafka of course, more distinctly though of Carter, Shulz, Kubin, and Lovecraft, but especially of Shulz and even of modern fantasists such as Mieville and Vandermeer. The book is a maze of shifting realities, beautiful and ominous images, and parodies of epic poetry, that is a fully enthralling and at times exhausting journey that skews from metaphysical slapstick comedy to psychedelic surrealism without much downtime. You don’t travel here ...more
Heather
The Other City is strange and wonderful, a book about seeing, a book about reading. It’s a slim novel, but one to read slowly: it’s full of images that I wanted to linger over. The other city is a shadow-Prague, a nighttime Prague, an underwater Prague, a different city that uses the spaces left empty or ignored by the daytime Prague, and a city with its own culture, customs, objects, religious rituals. Sometimes its signs and objects are seen in the daytime Prague; sometimes there are unexplain ...more
Monica Carter


Michael Ajvaz is a literary magician creating worlds of worlds, worlds of words, worlds of objects. He is the fantastical baby of Borges and Timothy Leary. He is a cartographer on mescaline. He is Czech.

His novel, The Other City, gives us a model novel of magical realism. The anonymous narrator finds a purple spined book on a shelf at a local bookshop written in an unknown language. And there begins his foray into understanding what he does not know, a language from a foreign place and a reality
...more
Zach
This is a mind-blowing book. It works as an abstract meditation on existence, a fabulist fantasy, and in parts almost like an absurd prose poem. The fertile imagination of Ajvaz runs free, but always in service to the bigger themes journeying and homecoming. The translation does a superb job of capturing the flow of the language, with the paragraphs of dialogue, in particular, rolling, accelerating downhill, snowballing in almost stream of consciousness exposition that manages to be poetic at th ...more
Circus
I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love it because it has so many of the qualities and tropes that I'm usually a sucker for: contemporary magic realism, urban settings, mysterious books, hidden places layered on top of real ones, an unsettling of the familiar by something uncanny. In reading up on Michal Ajvaz I've come across comparisons to Calvino and Borges, two pillars of my literary imagination. The first chapter was promising, my hopes were high.

But Ajvaz goes too far.

I appreciate sur
...more
Bbrown
An observer can't be part of the world he observes: you can't be detached, uninvested in that world and yet also a part of it, because being a part of something requires you to invest yourself in it. The tourist cannot understand the places he merely passes through, as it's a temporary sojourn for him and a permanent state of being for the people he sees there. You want to understand something, to be a part of something? You have to immerse yourself in it, and not hold anything back, letting go ...more
Mason Jones
This is certainly an odd read, but it's worth it. I very much enjoy surrealist literature, but only when the books don't let themselves get too carried away into nonsensicality -- if they lose the plot or focus entirely, then they'll lose me as well. "The Other City" has points where it skirts dangerously close, but then Ajvaz always pulls it back from the edge, and I didn't have any trouble sticking with our nameless first-person protagonist.

The "other city" referred to is a dreamlike flipside
...more
Emily  O
Feb 19, 2012 Emily O rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Emily by: European Literary Classics (ENG 202)
Sometimes a book comes along that knocks me out of complacency and reminds me exactly why I love to read. The Other City by Michal Ajvaz was one of those books. At once incredibly intelligent and captivatingly beautiful, it is a rewarding book for anyone who loves to read beneath the surface and find meaning just beyond the frontier.

After discovering a strange book in an alien language at an antiquarian book store, an unnamed narrator comes into contact with a strange other world, "a place where
...more
Cleo
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 bedspreads...in 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 famili ...more
Ludmila Kovaříková
Knihá mi blízká vytvořením paralelního světa Druhého města, které se skrývá v zákoutích, která nevidíme, úvahami nad znaky písma (co vlastně v písmu nese význam?), zamyšlením na tím, co jsme vlastně schopni vidět (nikdy nevidíme to, co nespadá do našeho způsobu vidění.) Vadily mi příliš na sebe vrstvené představy, ve kterých se člověk ztrácel, protože za chvíli nedávaly smysl. Závěr jsem příliš nepochopila: proč chtěli zabít "mnicha", když mu kniha stejně dala za pravdu?
Wim
dit is mijn shit mensen. deze man met een overschot aan verbeelding gooit de subtiliteit meteen overboord en overdondert v begin tot einde met waanzinnige beschrijvingen van surreeele objecten en plaatsen, op de ene of de andere manier zonder ook maar 1maal voor willekeur, voorspelbaarheid of makkelijke oplossingen te zwichten. warm aanbevolen
Claire Townsend
I loved this book. It's amazingly surreal and beautifully written. I loved the descriptions of the other city and the thin membrane that separates the two. The description particularly of how the 2 cities overlapped, like in the shadows and corners of bedrooms were really beautiful.
I love Calvino, and I thought this city could be a city within Invisible Cities, as others have said, if you like Kafka, Borges, and Carroll, you'll probably like this book.
My only critisms are I can't say it had an e
...more
Jenny
This book was like if The Neverending Story went on an acid trip, and the people within the acid trip were taking acid trips about people taking acid trips, only with more adverbs (though maybe that can be blamed on the translator). I had no idea everything could happen so suddenly and slowly. It even had the self-references The Neverending Story had, with the whole purposelessness thing and the wanting to make sense out things thing, but not as appealingly done. For me at least, because clearly ...more
Carly
Jan 03, 2015 Carly marked it as to-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dianne Bennett
A difficult read for me but worth it. It is one of those description rich books with multi-page paragraphs and multi-line sentences. I came across it on a list of best Sci-Fi/Fantasy and while I can see why it was given this genre listing it is much more on the lines of a classic serious novel a la Kafka with philosophical musings, imagery for the sake of images and exploration of language for the sheer joy of turning words.
Yasmeen
Right, so I'm not entirely sure what happened here. This was... seriously weird. And I don't have a problem with weird. Weird is good. But it has to actually mean something- I felt like I was just reading random thoughts and images that didn't actually have any significance whatsoever. Maybe it's because I haven't actually been to Prague and that's why I couldn't relate, I don't know. It didn't work for me.
Amy
This story has an "Alice in Wonderland" in Prague feeling, but surprisingly lacking in any real character or charm. The protagonist may as well have been a blank, not necessarily the person you want leading you into an alternate universe/secret society. Even the "other city" isn't really that cool. Disappointing considering how much I am usually into Eastern European authors.
Jake Cooper
A few beautiful passages in too much randomness made this a 2-star read, but -- but! -- the finish is exceptionally good, and gives meaning to the prior randomness. Still, I can't bump it over 3 stars.
Olga Zilberbourg
A cool, challenging novel that explores the impossibility of getting to the center of a thing -- the heart of a city, the essence of an idea. The other world that exists below the surface of this world is a matter of exploring the periphery of vision. A very Borgesian book, with a Prague twist :)
Joyce Lucrecia
A bit overly word-dense but this could be partially due to the translation. Overall not super-amazing in terms of form but still very enjoyable and has some very insightful and arresting passages about language, communication, meaning, journeys... intentions, modes of living, etc....
Dustin Kurtz
Not all authors can be all things but sometimes, if they are as talented as Ajvaz, they can be one thing for longer and better than you'd have though possible. In this case it is the Calvino thing; the Borges thing, taken to the greatest extremes.
Rachel
Oh, it was so weird and creepy! It was very intelligent though--I wish I could've gotten past the crawling skin as the author described a weird, slightly evil, magical Prague overlaid (interwoven) throughout the everyday, solidly terrestrial one.
Nicholas Whyte
Someone recommended this to me months ago, a surreal reimagining of Prague as a city with a mystical twin space linked to it. I found it dull and incoherent. China Mieville did it much better in "The City & the City". At least it is short.
Deanna Derosa
An interesting surrealistic book on Prague. It's not an easy read. Although it is difficult to stay with the plot at the beginning, it pays off at the end. Recommended if you know the city, have an interest in it or enjoy surrealism.
Emmakate
Completely wonderful in its utter unimportance, a great way to lose yourself in a small little book for a while, with some incredible lines thrown in for good measure, including "Surely we are not so boring as to need reality."
Tyson
I really enjoyed the book, but it deviated to the fantastical to such an extent that the allegory was lost on me. It reads like a protrated series of dream sequences talking place around Prague and it envorons.
Eric
So much fun to read! It's pretty out there, very surreal. Michal Ajvaz composes the most amazing and intricate dreamscapes...it makes me want to explore the nooks and crannies of Portland with new eyes!
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Michal Ajvaz is a Czech novelist, essayist, poet, and translator. He is a researcher at Prague's Center for Theoretical Studies. In addition to fiction, he has published an essay on Derrida, a book-length meditation on Borges, and a philosophical study on the act of seeing. In 2005, he was awarded the Jaroslav Seifert Prize for his novel Prázdné ulice (Empty Streets).
More about Michal Ajvaz...
The Golden Age Lucemburská zahrada Prázdné ulice Návrat starého varana Tyrkysový orel

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“There is an endless chain of cities, a circle without beginning or end, over which there breaks unrelentingly a shifting wave of laws. There is the city-jungle and the city where people live in the pillars of tall viaducts that crisscross each other in countless overpasses and underpasses, the city of sounds and nothing else, the city in the swamp, the city of smooth white balls rolling on concrete, the city comprising apartments spread across several continents, the city where sculptures fall endlessly from dark clouds and smash on the paving stones, the city where the moon’s path passes through the insides of apartments. All cities are mutually the center and periphery, beginning and end, capital and colony of each other.” 3 likes
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