Hours of Lead

Radka Denemarková: Román Hodiny z olova (2019, CZ)Original title: Hodiny z olova
Pages: 752
Year of publication: 2018
Published by: Host
ISBN: 978-80-7577-474-3
Buy the book: HostHoffmann und Campe
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A comprehensive novel inspired by author’s stays in China.

Magnesia Litera Prize – Book of the Year 2019

Literary Prize of Styria 2022 (Austria)


The same crucial sentence will affect the fates of several generations of families from a number of European countries and walks of life. They include a Czech businessman, his wife and teenage daughter, a Russian diplomat, a French writer, a student of calligraphy, a chef and many other protagonists as well as d their family traumas from midlife crisis, through burnout to puberty. They are pilgrims and travellers who have come to China to sort out their lives, but their world continues to fall apart. Something is irreversibly lost, yet they don’t comprehend what it is. They try to find a fixed point in their past, but they have no idea what to look for.

And parallel to the dramatic turns in their private stories, something essential is breaking and turning in the lives of us all. The old world of Europe is finished and no one knows what is beginning. And, just as each character in the novel goes through an extreme situation, an existential and personal experience, all of us also also experience our “hour of lead”. People are withdrawing into themselves, and so begins the era of resigned apathy and demoralization, the era of gray everyday totalitarian consumerism. But there is still action. You just need to follow signs.

Read an excerpt


2019 MAGNESIA LITERA PRIZE Book of the Year


From the jury’s reasoning

‘Hours of Lead’ is an unusually vast and multi-layered novel, intentionally conceived as a political work of art that wants to have an impact. Its subject matter is the present-day form of Chinese society as a totalitarian regime, even though the focus is not so much on the way society works, but rather the fate of those who find themselves in the position of victims. The novel eschews traditional presentation of characters as unique beings that are occasionally affected by random events. The protagonists of the ‘Hours of Lead’ are symbolic archetypes, reminiscent of ancient mythology. They represent professions, behaviours and attitudes that help to bring the chillingly fatal events into motion. Private lives are completely ensnared by relentless social mechanisms: China’s rise to power is at the same time the opposite of the crumbling values of the European civilization that finds itself in a crisis from which there is no way out. ‘Hours of Lead’ is an attempt to write a novel that aims to shake the reader up from a condescending feeling that what they are reading is ‘only’ a well-thought-out story.Jury of the Magnesia Litera Prize
Radka Denemarková writes from within, yet without focusing on herself. A decidedly political writer, she uses her experience, travels and convictions to draw attention to foreign worlds, portray socially relevant topics, and condemn injustice. Her refusal to compromise goes hand in hand with a constant re-examination and reflection that is crafted with linguistic brilliance and profound insight.Jury of the Literary Prize of Styria (Austria)

From the reviews

Introspection and a birds-eye view, an allegory of our times that is also sophisticated and nuanced; not a single character in the book is a cardboard cut-out but rather almost a novel in their own right.Marko Martin, Die Welt
… a burning appeal to rethink our attitudes, since our human flaws make us susceptible to demagogues, false prophets and would-be leaders.Michael Stavarič, Die Presse
Just to look at, this is a colossus of a book– but one that encompasses worlds.Cornelia Geißler, Berliner Zeitung
The novel […] shows how dehumanisation – this hallmark of the twentieth century – progresses in a symbiosis of dictatorship and capitalism.Niels Beintker, BR2 Kulturwelt
Denemarková combines worlds and political systems cleverly and with an unobtrusive eloquence.Bernd Melichar, Kleine Zeitung
“Hours of Lead” never tries to disguise the fact that it is a thoroughly politically engaged book. Her ability to translate such an unabashedly literary commitment into a highly poetic language and original form makes Radka Denemarková one of the most exciting contemporary writers around.Veronika Schuchter, Die Furche
Radka Denemarková has joined the ranks of those who can be expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.Daniela Strigl, Ex libris, ÖRF Ö1

All reviews

Foreign editions

  • German edition: Stunden aus Blei. Translated by Eva Profousová. Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 2022.
  • Rights sold to:
    Italy: Miraggi edizioni – for 2022
    Slovenia: KUD Police Dubove – for 2022