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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

A Kingdom of Souls

by
Daniela Hodrová


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Kingdom of Souls



Title: A Kingdom of Souls
Author: Daniela Hodrová
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: A Kingdom of Souls - US
A Kingdom of Souls - UK
A Kingdom of Souls - Canada
Le Royaume d’Olšany - France
Das Wolschaner Reich - Deutschland
Sotto le due specie - Italia
  • Czech title: Podobojí
  • Translated by Elena Sokol and Véronique Firkusny, based on the (unpublished) 1992 translation by Tatiana and Véronique Firkusny
  • With a Foreword by Elena Sokol

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Our Assessment:

A- : fantastically fluid tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/10/2015 Andrei Rogatchevski


  From the Reviews:
  • "This English translation took almost a quarter of a century to complete, but it was worth waiting for. The immersive poetic quality and complex polyphonic structure of the original have been painstakingly preserved." - Andrei Rogatchevski, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Kingdom of Souls is the first in a Prague-trilogy, the novel itself dated: "December 1977-October1978, June 1984" but only published after the fall of the Communist regime. Its prime locale and vista is the Olšany cemetery -- or at least a building opposite it, specifically a fifth floor apartment -- but even as much of the action is focused here it is a sweeping novel of Prague, and the modern Czech experience, since the Nazi occupation. It begins with one character dead(-but-not-entirely-departed), a presence in the pantry of that fifth floor apartment -- and he is soon joined by others, the small chamber eventually getting quite crowded. In a A Kingdom of Souls death isn't a complete release, and the dead figure just as much as the living.
       There are several prominent characters in this novel of criss-crossing stories, but the central one is young Alice Davidović, longing and waiting for her beloved, Pavel Santner. But as the novel opens Pavel Santner had left with a transport two weeks earlier, and the possibility of their reunion seems slight; Alice never entirely gives up hope -- and yet also does so almost immediately, in shocking fashion. It is the time of the Second World War; Alice's family is Jewish; they too "were to join a transport" .....
       Hodrová's novel is one of history, and characters whose stories are not fixed and definitive, not absolute (so also in the dead continuing to be very real presences, even if on an entirely different plane). As she writes at one point in the narrative:

That's how it happened, but perhaps it happened somewhat differently.
       The novel, and its stories, are fluid -- and flowing into and out of one another. The past -- and the dead -- linger and blend into the present -- right down to the onion-smell that remains in the Davidovićs' old apartment.
       Beyond the individual characters, dead and alive, this is also a novel of objects and places, many of Hodrová's short chapters giving voice to the inanimate: "I am the Olšany Cemetery", for example (where its past incarnation -- as vineyard -- also still blends into present), or: human skin, or a silkworm (with its shifting identity, from egg to caterpillar to moth), or a dressmaker's dummy called Kain. One chapter describes the souls of this 'kingdom of souls' -- "endowed with a capacity for infinite metamorphoses and reincarnations" --, another the nation itself:
     I am the nation disillusioned by its revolutions and its occupations, even by its sacrifices to fire.
       One chapter gives voice to Alice's muff -- an object that figures at various points in the story as well, symbolic, like so much in this novel, in so many ways.
       Hodrová's poetic, elegiac, and dark novel doesn't lend itself to summary; fluid seems the best description -- and slippery too. In a way it is a small, domestic novel, following several of the inhabitants of the same house -- and especially that fifth-floor apartment -- across the decades, but in keeping roles for the dead -- separated from and yet still as real as the living -- Hodrová explodes the traditional house/hold novel.
       History, too, pervades the story -- but it is subtly woven, determinative but still background, in in a text that is filled with allusions. A commentary on Czech history -- sometimes very direct ("I am the nation disillusioned by its revolutions and its occupations") -- it is also movingly personal. Equally effective is her use of the inanimate -- which often has a very different scale of time and change --, as real and significant as any of the human beings.
       A Kingdom of Souls is a dark and elusive novel, but it is also seductive. Hodrová's precise expression (in this fine translation) and unexpected perspectives make for an impressively disturbing, compelling text.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 March 2016

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Links:

A Kingdom of Souls: Reviews: Daniela Hodrová: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Daniela Hodrová was born in 1946.

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© 2016 the complete review

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