Kobold: An Abundance of Tenderness / An Abundance of People

Radka Denemarková: Kobold (2011)Original title: Kobold: Přebytky něhy / Přebytky lidí
Pages: 327
Year of publication: 2011
Published by: Host
ISBN: 978-80-7294-506-1
Buy the book: Host
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Kobold is a double novel – 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.

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. An Abundance 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, An Abundance 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.”

Kobold loosely follows previous novels The Devil by the Nose (2005) and Money from Hitler (2006)  by this novel, the author completed the trilogy about the Central-European 20th century.

Read an extract


2011 nominated for the JOSEF ŠKVORECKÝ PRIZE

2011 book mentioned in the Lidové noviny opinion poll “LITERARY EVENT OF THE YEAR 2011” (by Jana Klusáková, Markéta Hejkalová and Petr Kotyk)

From the jury’s reasoning

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, Jury of the Czech Book Prize

All reviews

Foreign editions

  • Slovenian edition: Kobold. Presežki ljudi / Presežki nežnosti. Translated by Tatjana Jamnik. Modrijan, Ljubljana 2013.
  • Polish edition: Kobold. Translated by Olga Czernikow. Książkowe Klimaty. Warsaw, 2019.
  • Rights sold to:
    Hoffmann und Campe, Germany – for 2023

Excerpt in EnglishKOBOLD. Translated by Julia Sherwood. Word without borders. New York, USA.

Excerpt in German: KOBOLD. Translated by Eva Profousová. Manuskripte. 30. 6. 2011. Austria.

Excerpt in 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.

Other books from this trilogy: