Michal Ajvaz - Evil gangrene that will gradually overwhelm everything. The letters exhale a poison that discreetly corrodes the familiar world

Michal Ajvaz, The Other City (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009)

«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 yawn beneath our feet, and waves lap at our bedspreads. Heir to the tradition and obsessions of Jorge Luis Borges, as well as the long and distinguished line of Czech fantasists, Ajvaz's Other City is the emblem of all the worlds we are blind to, being caught in our own ways of seeing.»

«In Ajvaz's first novel to be translated into English, a Borgesian cohort of freakish creatures, talking birds and eccentric city dwellers lurk on the margins of an alternative Prague. An unnamed protagonist learns that a book written in an unearthly language is an opening to a dangerous world that is just around the corner from normal life. More and more frequently, the protagonist stumbles across scenes from the other city-he spies on an inscrutable religious service, is treated to "a lecture on the subject of Latest Discoveries about the Great Battle in the Bedrooms." The city's inhabitants do not take kindly to his intrusions; he is pursued by weasels, shot at by a helicopter and nearly eaten by a half-man, half-shark. Meanwhile, overheard conversations dissolve into nonsense, elk are stabled inside statues and birds recite passages from an epic poem. Ajvaz's novel is a gorgeous matryoshka doll of unreason, enigma and nonsense-truly weird and compelling.» - Publishers Weekly

«The texts of the Czech writer Michal Ajvaz (pronounced EYE-voss) are evidence not only of a clever imagination, but also of a mind that savors the difficulty of reading—a mind for which language is not merely a vehicle for the delivery of information, but an integral part of the very world it is trying to communicate. Reading such a world means stepping inside it, letting it infect you, bruise, scrape, poison and obsess you.
The novel is reminiscent of Surrealism in the way it departs from common experience and 'common sense,' attacks logical rules and customs, and takes things out of their familiar contexts. It is, however, a work more of invention and intellectual game than of spontaneous imagination. The ornamental imagery becomes fixed in obsessive formulae and configurations, and this is somewhat disproportionate to how it eludes definite, accepted meanings, and moves to other possibilities and worlds, which are protean and ever emerging, and to how it calls upon us to accept another cosmos. The setting is a textual maze from which there is no escape and whose ultimate meaning remains forever inaccessible, since the ultimate contexts are never emphasized.» - Jonathan Bolton

«If you love a story that begins with finding a mysterious book in a musty antiquarian bookshop, a book filled with fanciful indecipherable script, a book with disturbing illustrations depicting a strange and terrible world, a world of golden temples and murderous tigers, and if a story with a book hinting that a parallel world exists within everyday life’s interstices, or, rather, within the very walls, alleys, and even furniture (including wardrobes) of the so-called real one, “a world in such close proximity to our own, one that seethes with such strange life, one that was possibly here before our own city and yet we know absolutely nothing about it,” where televisions talk to each other and sounds waft out of postcards, a frightening world of flying and talking fish, shark-headed attackers, crazed weasels, a world of cryptic speech and arcane rituals, a story where the “real” world’s libraries turn into jungles, where pianos turn into crabs, where a small cylinder in a park is really a cupola’s skylight turret, a story as much concerned with unraveling the mysteries of language as it is in weaving a spiraling intrigue of its own through unapologetically overwrought, longwinded, and interminable prose, a prose weighted by perspicacious and a kind of claustrophobic attention to detail, a prose that like the phosphorescent statues it describes is “in the style of a kind of gloomy subterranean Baroque,” a prose reminiscent of Conrad’s voluble interior chatter and Borges’s pseudo-scientific and philosophical ramblings, a prose issued by a peripatetic and persnickety narrator whose own gifted and jeweled loquacity apparently never slows him down, or annoys any of the other characters, for that matter, since they too offer labyrinthine monologues filled with fascinating asides, essayistic descriptions, and absurd connections and explanations, and where they talk of “banned verbal tenses,” and “the white monster tense and the jungle tense,” and of how “all verbal endings are totally harmless and have nothing to do with the evil music that destroys shiny machines,” and of how “[c]ase endings will eventually free themselves from their demeaning position and shine once more in their ancient glory,” and how “[b]it by bit they will separate themselves from the roots of nouns and become what they were at the beginning—the invocation of demons,” and if a story like this also turns out to be a love story, a love story between the hero and an irksome, at best, and sometimes deadly romantic foil, a love story that never really consummates, whose rare intimacy is a silent cuddling together “of two bodies with which something reaches out to the darkness and frost, as atrocious as any of the monsters creeping about the plains of the stars,” and if this love story is really a smaller one beneath a larger love story, like an umbrella under a canopy, that is, a story that is really a love letter to language, if a story like this interests you, then Michal Ajvaz’s The Other City, the first of the Czech writer’s novels to be translated into English, would be a great one to pick up, for while the romantic undercurrent between the narrator and his muse pulsating throughout the story is an intriguing one, it is his love of books and language that drives his obsessions like wandering Prague’s narrow gothic and baroque streets, its sprawling Old Town Square, and sundry ledges, alleys, and shadowed corridors, a love of language signaled when he (paraphrasing Ajvaz) returns to his book, savors its aroma and allows his 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,” an obsession that—after learning that the “library is a treacherous place”—leads him to conclude that “books treat solely of other books and that signs likewise refer to other signs; that a book has nothing to do with reality, but instead reality itself is a book since it is created by language…that books and signs remain rooted in reality and governed by its unknown currents, that our signifying and communicating is embedded in being, which signifies itself, its secret rhythms, and that original signification, that original dull glow of being keeps alive our meanings while at the same time threatening to swallow them again and dissolve them in itself,” all of which leads this reader to believe that Michal Ajvaz may have written The Other City so that its reader is inspired to follow the narrator’s lead and allow his or her eyes to randomly flit over its pages, and find countless examples of mysteriously sparkling sentence fragments, sentences where plot is a kind of secondary scaffolding from which to drape them, sentences that would as much open up the doors of perception as transfix the meandering waves of attention, sentences that like the alphabet from that magical book this whole story begins with seem “to be bursting under the pressure of some expanding internal force,” sentences full of yearning, of disquieting awe, sentences that seek a lost beginning, sentences positing “that the dread you feel on the periphery of your world is the beginning of the bliss of return, that death in the jungles of the margins is a shining rebirth.”» - John Madera

«The Other City is a novel of another Prague, a second city layered largely invisibly behind the first, familiar one. Steeped in the fiction of Prague-based authors who dabbled in the mystical and fantastical, ranging from Kafka through Leo Perutz and Gustav Meyrink to Karel Čapek, and with a healthy dose of Borges thrown in for good measure, Ajvaz offers a semi-alternate-universe novel whose greatest appeal is the overlap of this secondary world with the first.
It begins, as these things often do, with a book, written in a mysterious indecipherable script, and with a strange greenish glow to it. Trying to learn more about the script, the narrator discovers others have come across similar books -- and that they hold other-worldly powers, the world around the readers undergoing bizarre changes ("The piano turned into crabs and crept around the bedroom", etc.) as they open a portal to a different (sur-)reality found beside our own. As one person warns:
Just look at the artful and crafty expression in those letters ! It's an evil gangrene that will gradually overwhelm everything. The letters exhale a poison that discreetly and assiduously corrodes the familiar things of our world.
But the narrator's curiosity has been piqued, and he can't leave be, and he goes off in search of this other-world, encountering glimpses and portals to it all over Prague. It's a world of strange rituals and flying ray-fish (the narrator hitches a ride at one point). The pages of a book he leafs through turn to wooden boards and then the paddles of a mill wheel. Yet the differences extend beyond physical transformations, down to completely different foundations of everything fundamental, as this world is built up entirely differently than ours. Among the school-lessons he overhears:
Case endings will eventually free themselves from their demeaning position and shine once more in their ancient glory. Bit by bit they will separate themselves from the roots of nouns and become what they were at the beginning - the invocation of demons.
As he first begins to realize what's out there the narrator wonders:
Can there really exist a world in such close proximity to our own, one that seethes with such strange life, one that was possibly here before our own city, and yet we know absolutely nothing about it ? The more I pondered on it, the more I was inclined to think that it was indeed quite possible, that it corresponded to our lifestyle, to the way we lived in circumscribed spaces that we are afraid to leave.
Indeed, he sees traces of the other-world everywhere - and, once he really starts looking, plunges in repeatedly. Among the best descriptions are those of the souls who have been lost here - the girl who got on the wrong tramway, the library, in whose depths several librarians disappear every year ("and the librarianship schools are unable to turn out enough graduates").
Eventually, he realizes:
Now I knew that the other city can only be entered by someone who leaves in the awareness that the journey he is undertaking has no purpose, because purpose means a place in the fabric of relations that create the home, and that it is not even purposeless, because purposelessness simply complements purpose and belongs to this world.
Ajvaz is successful in conjuring up a quite wonderful beyond-purposeless-world - but that's also one of the difficulties with the book, as it is almost all atmosphere but all to... little purpose. This is a novel of discovery of and of getting to know this secondary world, but Ajvaz is so enamored of his invention that it doesn't go much beyond that.
One character warned early on:
Don't concern yourself with weird books that remind you of the frontiers of our world. They can't lead you out of it, they can only eat away at its structure from within.
But Ajvaz doesn't eat away at enough in his own book, too satisfied with the neat concept and a few wild ideas. Yes, this is wonderful fantasy - scenes that unfold like in surreal films, or Daliesque artworks. And, yes, there is some narrative tension, as the narrator has repeated narrow escapes from this other-world - but on the whole there is too little story here, and the other-world alone is not compelling enough to sustain a whole novel (although perhaps it might be for some readers). Intriguing, but not entirely satisfying.» - M. A. Orthofer

«The Other City by Czech writer Michal Ajvaz repopulates the city of Kafka with ghosts, eccentrics, talking animals, and impossible statues. As the jacket copy reads, the novel serves as a kind of "guidebook to this invisible '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." Clearly, the publisher, Dalkey Archive Press, is trying to evoke echoes of Italo Calvino and Jorges Luis Borges. However, The Other City tells a more conventional story than Borges and it is too much Ajvaz's own creation and style to be called "Calvino-esque" - especially since Ajvaz's prose in translation is meatier, less dry in its humor, more generous in its descriptions. A book, naturally, triggers the adventure embarked upon by our nameless narrator, a book that shows that "The frontier of our world is not far away; it doesn't run along the horizon or in the depths. It glimmers faintly close by, in the twilight of our nearest surroundings; out of the corner of our eye we can always glimpse another world, without realizing it."
There's a definite whimsical streak in The Other City, and at first I thought it might overwhelm the stolid foundation of reality needed to make most fantasies work. However, the whimsy becomes encrusted with the absurd and the grotesque until it begins to make the reality look almost ephemeral by comparison. Strange scenes involving bizarre fish and other monstrosities evoke the great Czech filmmaker Svankmajer, with a hint of Dali in their nimbleness.
Then there are overheard conversations, as when the narrator eavesdrops on a surreal discussion between a teacher and a girl, with the teacher bombastically making various claims only for the girl to give this remarkable speach: "The girl moved closer to the teacher. 'Don't fool yourself,' she said harshly. 'The artillery will never return. They will study in a decaying, incredible Oxford of garbage tips. The candied books will be confiscated and, for the glory of shiny and cruel machines, they will be tossed into saurians from the reviewing stand. (Saurians in those days will still parade obediently four abreast, but soon afterwards they will conspire with us little girls and declare aloud what has been hushed up for centuries, namely, that dogs have no objective existence).'" When the teacher protests that he has solved this problem by purging "geometry of polar animals. Are you saying that was all in vain?" the girl replies, "Of course it was all in vain... You purged geometry of polar animals...You've forgotten the first axiom of Euclid states that there will always be one or two penguins in geometrical space?"
And so it goes. There's a tension in The Other City between the fanciful and the baroque, the cleverly odd and the deeply odd, that makes the novel work. It's the kind of book you let wash over you in waves--episodic, funny but not too silly, and marked by a first-class imagination. It deserves a longer review than I've given it here, but full marks to Dalkey Archive Press for introducing readers in English to the talented Michal Ajvaz.» - Jeff VanderMeer

«Most men don’t see because they're all too accustomed to seeing. - Marcel Bealu, The Experience of the Night
"Every genuine encounter is an encounter with a monster."-Michal Ajvaz
The Other City is a mesmerizing novel, written, like the purple-spined book at its heart, in a viral language capable of infecting even the most sober reader. It is a picture book without pictures, a rational hallucination, parts fairytale and allegory on reading, and an imaginative treatise on seeing. It is a bulging suitcase of a book, crammed with the laundry of several traditions; yet it wears this threadbare suit so that it looks new. (The tears have been sewn and a little water rubbed on its worn patches makes it shine.) It shares an affinity with Borges' dizzying metaphysical speculations, Calvino's apparent lightness of approach (draped over elaborate structures), the dream logic of the Surrealists - particularly that of their precursor Marcel Bealu in his Experience of the Night, and a more than titular similarity with Alfred Kubin's The Other Side.
To call The Other City strange is warranted, but the imprecision of the adjective leaves something to be desired. Perhaps more suitable would be to call the novel estranging in its ability to, among other things, (re)turn the reader's gaze to the liminal spaces of our too-narrow world. Ajvaz's wandering narrator crawls into shadowy corners, dusty undersides, unkempt closets, and continual threat in a quest for an alien center that perpetually recedes from his view, certain that "The frontier of our world is not far away; it doesn’t run along the horizon or in the depths. It glimmers faintly close by, in the twilight of the nearest surroundings; out of the corner of our eye we can always glimpse another world, without realizing it."
To continue to conjecture over Ajvaz's aim is to turn into a chore the recollection of this visually stunning, labyrinthine novel. A partial inventory of its images reveals its richness: a tsunami wave waiting just outside a window; glass statues in which fluorescent fish battle; the pages of a book turning to lead as a reader turns them; a cruise ship silently plowing through the snowy streets of Prague; a comforter stretching into a convoluted plain (of course!); and the truly astonishing metamorphosis of a library into a jungle….
A quotation suffices where I fail:
"I entered one of the narrow aisles. For a while I proceeded in darkness, which was illuminated here and there by the glow of putrefying books. I switched on my torch and let the beam wander over the bookshelves. In the damp air the pages of books curled, swelled, frayed and turned to pulp, expanding and forcing the bindings outwards, tearing them and squeezing out through the holes…. What was most nauseating in these stuffy and fetid surroundings was not the realization that a strange accidental calamity was occurring with the rampant nature devouring the fruits of the human spirit; what gave rise to increasing anxiety was rather the fact that the dreamlike transformation of books into dangerous and unemotional vegetation laid bare the malignant disease secretly festering in every book and every sign created by humans. I read somewhere that books treat solely of other books and that signs likewise refer to other signs; that a book has nothing to do with reality, but instead reality itself is a book since it is created by language. What was depressing about that doctrine was that it allowed reality to be hidden by our signs."» - Stephen Sparks

«The signs of connective tissue in the films of David Lynch are in places very clear. Beyond Lynch’s own mentioning of the mesh of words, most vocally between Mulhollland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE, but also, I would insist, between all the films, in many ways the blank or horrendous spaces that make the films seem the most ‘underneath the viewer’s skin’ are the creation of the space itself, a portal both from film to film, as well as, I must demand, into human.
The rips in spaces in Lynch are all throughout, and in many ways, the definitive space of Lynch: the totem-being behind Winky’s, Club Silencio, the Black Lodge, the pink house on the sound stage and the ‘other version’ of Hollywood & Vine in INLAND EMPIRE, the Rabbits, Ben’s house in Blue Velvet, the exploding shed in Lost Highway, perhaps the entire terrain of Eraserhead, etc., etc. You could list these rooms forever.
You could also list, in your own life, the spaces of your mind that are contained in memory or in associative practice: sleep rooms, childhood slurrings, ruined pictures, unrecorded thoughts, most any second mostly. That you could also not truly make this list is important too, as here is an example, in Lynch’s hands, perhaps, of what occurs in evidence of the reckoning:
Absorbing all of these spaces, I think, is the room displayed in the credit sequence of INLAND EMPIRE, the room where ‘Rita’ appears and sits and watches the logger cutting, the singing man, an Asian woman wearing a Laura Palmer-esque wig, the dance crew’s insanely mesmerizing performance of Nina Simone, and various other Lynch-pins, if you will, creating a kind of den within the film within the film, an anterior both to the Black Lodge and a space that operates for me as the crown and blood of the whole film, which seems interesting, in that it is used for the viewer as an exit, a segment that is usually walked out on, and also contains all the scrolling names of all the human bodies used to ‘create’ the film itself.
Also interesting is the hilariously off-putting and seemingly out-of-place (and therefore perfectly in-place) last bit of ‘actual film dialog’ that serves as a ‘key to the door’ of the sequence, a sex-rasped “Sweeeet.”
At the same time, it is these rips, these collusions and things not quite seen, but only hinted into what is not contained by the film, that give the film its sickening power.
Take, for instance, the ‘urban legend’ style discussion of what could be the presence of Laura Palmer in the Club Silencio scene of MULHOLLAND DRIVE (see this amazing post ‘Laura Palmer in Club Silencio?’, linked from the definitive MD fansite, which contains an incredible map of the spaces of the film, and a self-defeating crowd of theories, discussions, etc.)
Whether or not that actually is Sheryl Lee, there is something about the thought and the residue of this contention, and then underlying ‘unspokenness’ of it, that makes my whole body go rubbery.
[That I am writing all this down while someone is under my house banging with hammers, and the water is turned off, and in a half light through turquoise curtains, is quite right.]
These connective rooms, this blank space, space filmed and not filmed, the antithesis of the actual connectivity which instead then creates actual terrain not on the film and therefore somewhere else (where?): these are what make the body of the air milked in the Lynch rooms so full of and empty of light at the same time. The question of process in Lynch’s creation/tapping of these spaces I think is directly related to his process and mental openings, which is another discussion in itself. The connected disconnected. The unintentionally intentional. The accidental right-there.
Certainly, as well, Lynch’s affinity for lighting, electricity, doors, curtains, specific foods: these are organs in the massive body.
Some anagrams for the phrase INLAND EMPIRE: A Ripened Limn, Epidermal Inn, Impaled Inner, Melanin Pride, Inaner Dimple, A Primed Linen, Renamed Nil Pi.
Some anagrams for the phrase MULHOLLAND DRIVE: Landlord Veil Hum, Halved Dull Minor, Invader Mold Hull, Drain Hold Vellum, Lard Unmoved Hill, Damn Drivel Hullo, Human Devil Droll
All of this is stirring me, as it does most does in waking and nonwaking, even more so in the light of the book I am currently exactly halfway finished with, The Other City by Michal Ajvaz, which was released in 1993 in Czech and was recently rereleased in English from Dalkey Archive Press.
From the copy on the book: 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 yawn beneath our feet, and waves lap at our bedspreads.”
I read the first half of the book yesterday (exactly, to the page), and will read the second half tonight, and yet feel more equipped now to write about it in the context of the above than perhaps if I had finished.
Essentially, The Other City begins in a book shop, with a man finding a book among the others pressed, purple, full of a ruinic writing he has never seen. At first he glances, puts it back, but then returns and buys the book, and in his exploration of the text and its aura’s effect on his mind, finds himself on an unraveling inquest to a world that the book seems to be a cursor for (much in the way of the blue cube fro MD): a world contained between all the blank places among the everyday that most people overlook.
For instance, of these places, at one point the narrator finds himself, while walking along an old path, confronted by a sizable topped-off cylinder stuck in the ground, which he remembers having, as a child, hidden behind. There is a rusted stove door on the cylinder that he remembers having never been able to pry open, but in his coming across it now, it opens, large enough to stick a head in. Inside, in a strange light, he comes across a man delivering a strange sermon to a large congregation, discussing their unconscious exile from the city.
Among the long, strange-logicked speech, the man says something that in some way seems to refer to the nature of the craft I only hinted at above:
Why doesn’t he choose another typewriter? All the other typewriters have disappeared: some have been borne away to the Caucasus by a swarm of locusts (it is proven that, by joining forces, locusts are capable of carrying even a horse many miles), some typewriters are used as part of some kind of new perversion spreading through the cities, and some have been transformed into the white light illuminating the statue of the beautiful animal angel.
Later, when the narrator returns to try to get into the cylinder again, the door will no longer open.
The space of this room, and the other-logic of it (amazingly rendered in Ajvaz’s post-Kafka, hyper-hyper-aware prose), feels much like, and perhaps even embedded in or connected to, the rooms and spaces Lynch is able among our human lights to absorb.
The walls and beings of these spaces and these people, for Ajvaz, like Lynch, are right there among the everyday items and connectors we assume are ‘just things’ (a railway leading to the titular ‘other city’ runs through the heart of the ‘everyday’ town here, but is considered an old line, outdated, and is therefore not questioned, nor are the presence of these strange green shuttles that are said to appear in the city’s art, always there).
Though in Ajvaz’s spaces, the temper is even more, or at least differently, fantastic: sharks swim in snow, massive flower ceremonies intersect with ski lifts that intersect the the city; strange animal (tigers, bears, dogs) monsters that interact with humans; humans who seem clear on distinguishing themselves politically from the unknowing others, whereas in Lynch, the hidden peoples are murderers, rapists, loons.
The menace, though, in both looms hyper-real, to the point that it seems more real even than telephones or waking. A blood lymph laid around the everyday.
People with any experience of the ‘Other City’ in The Other City are continually interrupted, distracted, afraid.
Some anagrams for the phrase THE OTHER CITY: Itchy Thereto, Etch They Riot, Octet Heir Thy, Rich Teeth Toy, Retch Yet Oh It, Cry Eh Eh It Tot.
Another quote from the book (pg 51):
The T-bar dragged me up cold, dankly-reeling staircases of houses, lit by solitary light bulbs. I passed through dim hallways into a lobby. I shouted out when a figure suddenly appeared in front of me, but it was only my reflection in a big mirror above the shoe rack. I moved through the corners of bedrooms where people lay asleep. A man and a young woman were making love on a wide white bed; the girl heard the clatter and turned her head toward me, silently staring me in the eyes until I disappeared behind the closet. I was traveling through the interspace between the apartments whose existence is denied.
Ajvaz’s underground temples, mazelike buildings, dual presences, shifting languages (recall the Red Room backward speak), his terrains: books within books, worlds within worlds, ones that truly call attention to our daily walls and air, moves from room to room, the leaking.
[Such that, now that the banging in my house where I am writing this is silent, and the water has returned, I feel stranger now than when it had been gone.]
And such that, as I wait in this null space between halves of finishing my reading of Ajvaz, the doors seem even more open, looking, oh.]» - Blake Butler

«The Other City is an obscure novel, but a very important one. Michal Ajvaz's haunting, difficult prose is a bizarre, labyrinthine journey through Prague - the City of a Thousand Spires - that will leave you alternately breathless, laughing out loud, or utterly confused.
There is nothing remotely conventional about this book. You can quite literally get lost in it (just like the unnamed narrator), in the many hidden worlds it examines: entirely unknown, nocturnal realities coexisting with our own in the dark corners and midnight gardens of our own cities.
Prague itself is the most compelling character: an elegant, seductive, maddening mistress of snow-covered cobblestones and gothic spires. You will be dying to book a flight within the first few chapters. Yet the Prague we know is just a starting point:
"The frontier of our world is not far away...it glimmers faintly close by, in the twilight of our nearest surroundings. Out of the corner of our eye we can always glimpse another world, without realizing it. We are walking all the time along a shore and along the edge of a virgin forest."
The story begins in an old Prague bookshop where the narrator discovers an unmarked volume bound in purple velvet. The pages are filled with an indescribable, unknown alphabet that, when placed on his shelves at home, begins to spread and infect the pages of all the books nearby. In his quest to understand the strange book and its engravings of lost temples, the narrator stumbles in and out of an "other" Prague (the source of the unknown alphabet), an entire hidden, incomprehensible civilization existing on the fringes and in the hidden spaces of our own world.
I won't spoil the fun, but you can expect to wander through subterranean churches filled with glass sculptures (themselves filled with schools of fish); through gargantuan libraries filled with jungles and forgotten ruins where visitors often lose their way looking for a book, never to return; there are elk stables hidden in the hollows of Prague's statuaries, and night-classes at 3am in its universities on the history of unknown wars.
Ajvaz's magical realism is narratively complex, and very challenging to read. It requires focused attention just to finish one short chapter. You will get lost and confused, especially if you look for meaning or purpose in the bizarre rituals of the Other City.
In the end, the novel isn't narratively satisfying. There's no sense of progress, closure, or accomplishment, and the narrator never develops into a character in his own right. But reading The Other City is like having the most eccentrically beautiful dreams of your life, and then waking up and laughing at their brilliant absurdity.
Think of the chapters as prose poems instead of serialized episodes in a story, and you'll enjoy the book more. I highly recommend it, and it's short enough to read in a few sittings, but dense enough to come back to several times.» - Adam Morgan