As most residents and visitors can attest, Prague is a city brimming with old-world charm and fantastic imagery set against a gothic fairy-tale backdrop.
The Czech capital has inspired many notable pieces of literature and continues to do so.
What follows is a collection of literary works that attempt to capture the magic of a city that’s history is steeped in the occult, alchemy, and folklore.
1. The Metamorphosis 1915 by Franz Kafka
Monuments honoring Fanz Kafka can be seen around Old Town Prague as well as an entire museum dedicated to the author. Kafka’s short story The Metamorphosis contains elements of the supernatural as traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover himself morphed into a large insect or “monstrous vermin”. Both The Metamorphosis and The Trial are among his most famous stories which are both set in the city of Prague.
2. Melmoth 2018 by Sarah Perry
Since the publication of Melmoth, Perry has emerged as one of the giants of the post-modern gothic genre. Melmoth portrays Prague’s gothic aesthetic while setting the backdrop for protagonist Helen Franklin who works in Prague as a translator.
Helen soon learns about the legend of “Melmoth the Witness”, a dark entity cursed to wander the earth until Christ has returned. Melmoth is believed to see everything that occurs and her presence signifies doom wherever she appears throughout history. Melmoth seems fittingly set in a place known as the city of a hundred spires.
3. The Other City 2009 by Michal Ajvaz
Czech novelist Michal Ajvaz creates an alternative version of Prague that overlaps with the everyday Prague. Ajvaz’s unnamed protagonist discovers a mysterious book in an unfamiliar language that serves as a portal into the dangerous other city. The novel acts as a guidebook to this other city inhabited by ghosts, talking birds, and other strange creatures that roam the medieval cobblestone streets.
4. The Trick 2017 by Emanuel Bergmann
Moshe Goldenhirsh is the son of a rabbi who lives in 1930’s Prague while his country is at war. Moshe runs away to join the circus and becomes a famous magician in his own right called the Great Zabbatini.
Moshe reaches a certain level of fame only to find himself being sought after by Adolf Hitler himself. In The Trick, Bergmann portrays the struggle of a man living in difficult times who must use magic to escape the oppressive presence in the city.
5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay 2000 Michael Chabon
Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay pays homage to the rich cultural history of Prague. The story follows a Jewish man named Joseph Kavalier who practices Houdini-styled escapism and must flee Prague to evade capture by the Nazis.
Before leaving the city, he is tasked with saving the Golem of Prague, a superhuman clay creature allegedly crafted from the mud of the Vltava river. The novel highlights the folklore of the Golem who is said to have walked the streets of Prague’s old Jewish Quarter. Chabon expertly crafts a blend of magical realism and history re-imagined.