Kobold (2011)

Kobold (2012)
Kobold (2012)



Literary fiction
(“Double novel”)
Host, 2011
327 pp

Extract (translated by Andrew Oakland) »

Extract (translated by Julia and Peter Sherwood) »


Prague, Christmas 1941.  Michael Kobold, a man obsessed with the river Vltava and Charles Bridge, tries to put a coat on the statue of St. John Nepomuk. Man and statue tumble into the freezing river. In the ensuing commotion, 17-year-old budding writer Hella, a sensitive girl from a well-to-do Jewish family, jumps off the Bridge to avoid being crushed by the crowd. In the rescue boat she encounters and falls for Kobold, half-man and half-water goblin, and marries him against the wishes of her family. She escapes being deported with her parents to a concentration camp, only to end up in the prison of a destructive marriage.

Prague, early 21st century. Hella’s and Kobold’s daughter returns to her native city after many years abroad and recalls the devastating impact her parents’ relationship and the fateful river had had on herself and her younger twin brothers.

A working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Prague, present day. Justýna, an unemployed young Roma single mother is desperately trying to make ends meet and keep custody of her nine children. The only person who is genuinely fond of her and secretly tries to help is a lonely, disabled funeral parlour attendant. However, amidst a newly prosperous, indifferent society neither of the two unfortunate, marginalized characters stands a chance.

Kobold is two stories in one, water and fire, two elements in one. It is left to the reader to decide which part to read first, and the link between the stories and characters is revealed only gradually.  Surfeit of Tenderness, the longer of the two stories, is a powerful indictment of domestic violence and the totalitarian undercurrents lurking within individuals and families. The second and shorter story, Surfeit of People, is a passionate condemnation of a society that has lost all sense of solidarity with the less fortunate, pushing them to the margins as if they suffered from a contagious disease. This society, Radka Denemarková believes, is the breeding ground for ‘Kobolds’- “people who are highly intelligent but with zero emotional intelligence and zero social empathy”. By manipulating others these people reach the top at lightning speed. My novel encompasses a plethora of themes, including totalitarianism.”


  • 2011 nominated for the JOSEF ŠKVORECKÝ PRIZE.
  • 2011 book mentioned in the Lidové noviny newspaper survey “LITERARY EVENT OF THE YEAR 2011” (by Jana Klusáková, Markéta Hejkalová and Petr Kotyk).

“I have nominated this book for its attempt to capture not only the mutual dependance between the contemporary unrest and disappearance of elms from the 19th century Bohemia.” (Petr Kotyk, literary historian)

  • 2012 nominated for the CZECH BOOK PRIZE.

„Denemarkova’s voluminous book “Kobold” offers a very demanding, yet completely unique narrative experiment. It brings together in one book a novel “Surplus of Tenderness (On water)” and a novelette “Surplus of People (On fire)”. The two parts of Kobold start on the opposite sides of the book and the author gives readers the liberty of whether to connect the two parts or not and to what extent, while also offering a choice of which part to read first. In this way we deal with an “open work” or a “partiture”, which engages readers and requires them to make their own interpretations. Both stories are, like the two elements in the subtitle, mutually exclusive, but also compatible at the same time. The novel “Surplus of Tenderness” spreads over a vast timeline of 20th-century historical landmarks , but also across various spaces, which function in both their literal and symbolic sense. “Surplus of People”, on the other hand, focuses on one particular space/time and is linked to the wider context only by the parallel novel. Both the novel and the novelette feature largely depressive narratives of human cruelty, misunderstanding and fading away, with tragic consequences…“ (Petr A. Bílek, Czech Book Prize jury member)


  • Slovenian edition: Kobold. Presežki ljudi / Presežki nežnosti. Translated by Tatjana Jamnik. Modrijan, Ljubljana 2013.
  • A translation of a fragment into German: KOBOLD. Translated by Eva Profousová. Manuskripte. 30. 6. 2011. Austria.
  • A translation of a fragment into German: DREI FRAUEN. Neue Literatur aus Tschechien. Translated by Eva Profousová. die horen. Zeitschrift für Literatur, Kunst und Kritik. 245/2012, 57. Jahrgang. March 2012. Germany.
  • A translation of a fragment into English: KOBOLD. Translated by Julia Sherwood. Word without borders. New York, USA.


  • Książkowe Klimaty, Poland


„The twofold book with its two stories, each starting from the opposite side of the book, eventually brings together the two elements in the two subtitles: fire and water. The tale of totalitarianism which manifests itself and manipulates people in the same way as domestic violence committed within the intimate circle of the family. The book is about the Kobolds, who may superficially seem like happy elves and fidgeters, but have monsters hidden deep inside, and also about the women who succumb to them. It is a story of the influence of the family, which might well be yet another form of totalitarianism from which we can never be free. Totalitarianism, which forces us to abide only by the rules we had once learnt. A book about love, which might become a prison we lock ourselves into. Two books bound together by gentle poetics with an impressive abruptness which does not conceal the author’s involvement while delivering a strong statement.“

„KOBOLD by Radka Denemarková with no hesitation! A novel and novelette in one volume, two connected stories of utmost evil dwelling within us. As always, a book by the translator of Herta Müller and Michael Stavarič is both demanding and painful to read. Heart-breaking gravity, breath-taking lightness, water and fire. Blood chilling fates of a stunning half-gypsy, an amazing mother of nine well-behaved children versus/plus accounts of an old woman about the father, the cruel tyrant, who… This book by author of prose and drama and Magnesia Litera prizewinner is as powerful as Sestra by Jáchym Topol. Great novels however, experiments packed with sensitivity, are rarely appreciated nowadays.“

„A struggle to resurrect the genre. The novel is a genre based mostly on a game and Radka Denemarková knows that well. Kobold consist of two parts. Each of them has its own boards – vis-á-vis each other. Both parts feature the Kobold – gnome, elf, leprechaun. The narrative is ruled sometimes by fire, sometimes by water. Or maybe the other way around? That is up to the reader.“