The Other City

Michal Ajvaz

Michal Ajvaz: The Other City

Original title: Druhé město

Genre: novel


Mladá fronta, 1993; Petrov, 2005; Druhé město, 2021

ISBN: 80-7227-231-4

Pages: 172


Mladá Fronta Publishers' Annual Award 1993

Foreign editions:

Russian (Azbuka, 2004, Jekaterina Bobrakova-Timoškina), Polish (Pogranicze, 2005, Leszek Engelking), Hungarian (Kalligram, 2007, Krisztian Benyovszky), Slovenian (Cankarjeva Založba, 2009, Nives Vidrih), English (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009, Gerald Turner), Swedish (Aspekt Forlag, 2009, Tora Hedin), Serbian (Clio, 2011, Vladan Matić), Bulgarian (Stigmati, 2012, Dobromir Grigorov), Norwegian (Bokvennen, 2012, Kristin Kilsti), Japanese (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2013, Kenichi Abe), Arabian (Al Shaar, Syria, 2014, Ghias Mousli), French (Mirobole, 2015, Benoît Meunier), Croatian (Ljevak, 2015, Katica Ivanković), Italian (Atmosphere Libri, 2015, Raffaella Belletti), Macedonian (Bata Press, 2015, Dragan Georgievski), Turkish (Ayrinti, 2017, Sevda Deniz Karali), Albanian  (Ombra GVG, 2017, Ani Hafizi), Korean (Happy Reading Books, 2018, Kim Kyuchin), Lithuanian (Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2020, Vytas Dekšnys), Dutch (Kleine Uil, 2021, Tieske Slim), Tamil (Kalachuvadu Publications, 2021, Ethiraj Akilan), Armenian (Vogi-Nairi, 2021, Vardan Fereshetyan), Persian (Ana Pol Publishing House, 2023)

Rights sold to:

Poland (Stara Szkoła, second edition), Greece (Kichli Publishing)


This distinctive novel is set in various shadowy settings about Prague, such as the belfry of St. Nicholas’s church, Petřín hill, a Malá strana café, Café Slavia, and the large Klementinum historical library. These are the places where a lonely young man walks at the ghostly hours of night and where flashes of the symbolic Other City emerge mingled with the reality of old Prague. All this is veiled in a dreamy atmosphere, the mysterious contents of which draw the narrator like a moth to a flame.

Annotation of the English language publisher of the book (Dalkey Archive Press): 
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 The Other City—his first novel to be translated into English—is the emblem of all the worlds we are blind to, being caught in our own ways of seeing.

The English translation of the book The Other City has ranked as the 6th most recommended book for the year 2009 in the editor´picks for sci-fi and fantasy kategory on Amazon.


The Czech Books You Must Read, Radio Prague International


Reviews for the English edition of the book (Dalkey Archive Press, USA, 2009):
M. A. Orthofer: The Complete Review's Review

Blake Butler

”Ajvaz's novel is a gorgeous matryoshka doll of unreason, enigma and nonsense—truly weird and compelling.”

Publishers Weekly

”The Czech Houdini! Michal 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 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.


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.


A quotation suffices where I fail.”

Stephen Sparks,

"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."

Jonathan Bolton, Context


"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, Omnivoracious


”Just translated into English, this Borgesian romp through a mystical version of Prague is at times haunting and other times hilarious. It makes you excited for Ajvaz’s book The Golden Age, which is being released by Dalkey in the spring.”

Michael Miller and Drew Toal, New York Time Out

Reviews for the French edition of the book (Mirobole, France, 2015):

“Some incredible things happen in this book. [… ] The writing is clear, simple, a pleasure to read.“
Nicolas Carreau, Europe 1

“You’ll immerse yourself in this book immediately, for its waters are amazing. The style of Czech writer Michal Ajvaz really is a little like water: at first glance it is clear and flows easily, yet at its bottom it boils and many mysteries reside in its depths.“
Jérémy Bernède, le Midi Libre

“There’s no doubting the danger involved in entering a library”, but to do so in the hands of so brilliant a writer as Michal Ajvaz is also tempting, surrealistic and unique.“
Le Matricule des Anges

“Magical and magnificent. The Other City is a literary journey that we wish would never end.“
Un dernier livre avant la fin du monde (= One Last Book before the End of the World – a literary webzine/web magazine)

“The strange, seductive narrative of the novel The Other City is dreamy, fantastical and surrealistic. It is a path that messes with your balance but also buoys you up.“
Encore du Noir

“A marvellous book – perhaps the best that Mirabole has ever published. It’s obvious that Mirabole has no hesitation in publishing something out of the ordinary.“

“A little surrealistic miracle.”
Un papillon dans la Lune

“A strange, fascinating book for readers with inquiring minds.”
Libraire Mollat

“What a novel! What a truly brilliant, magical novel!”
Librairie Oblique

“Michal Ajvaz – a geographical and literary fantastic: from The Golden Age to The Other City

A mere dream, a journey or especially penetrating insight can transform space – and art, too, be it architecture or literature. In a cross between a novel and a surrealistic prose poem, a remarkable Czech born in 1949 brings something akin to Piranesi’s fantasy world to islands and cities in order to turn them into extraordinary, destabilizing labyrinths. The Golden Age and The Other City – a fascinating narrative diptych reminiscent of Borges which is a pleasure to read.

[…]The Golden Age
Labyrinths, mirrors, a search for the ‘original layer of the book’ – Borgesian themes to be sure, yet the Czech Michal Ajvaz works with them in a way that is all his own. The Golden Age is a stunning novel that flirts with the essay and geographical description and comes together as a glittering, polymorphous fantasy.

[…] The Other City
This novel is a cross between a crazed tourist guide and aporetic metaphysics. Somewhere on the path between a ‘university library’ and a ‘stone temple’, among cafés that transform into jungle, is the elusive mystery of a book responsible for the ‘ruin of unfortunate librarians who have disappeared into book-filled shelves’. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the communism that afflicted Prague for so long. Who knows whether this is why the author, whose childhood was marked by a ban on non-realistic literature, likes to hide and lose himself in parafictional worlds?“
Thierry Guinhut

“The list of top works of fantasy literature gets ever longer. A further proof of this is the work of Czech writer Michal Ajvaz, whose 1993 novel The Other City has at last been translated into French, by Benoit Meunier. The Other City is a celebration of literature, books, prose poems, escape. It is an absolutely extraordinary adventure set in a world where the supernatural is right next to you – in cracks in walls, in shadows, behind the doors of fitted wardrobes, beyond the corners of library corridors, at the tip of a church spire, at the end of apparently abandoned erstwhile tram tracks. Lovers of Spirited Away or the fantasy books of François Fierobe are sure to find their expectations met by this unhurried novel, while readers who are allergic to that kind of literature should definitely give this a try.“
EC, L´INDIC Noir Magazine

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