Ondřej Štindl’s novel So Much Ash is set in Prague in the first half of 2020, during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. It tells a fantastical story that thematizes the apocalypse as a symbol of extinction but also the promise of a new beginning.
The book’s protagonist, Kryštof Mráz, is filled with a new urgency in the time of the pandemic, both on a social and personal level. He is forced to ask himself some very difficult questions that he has pushed aside and ignored until now, to consider the meaning of life and perhaps even the existence of God, to try to come to terms with his own life and the losses he has suffered, to open himself up to the possibility of love, to stop living in a “lukewarm” way.
An aging writer and translator, the novel’s protagonist Kryštof abruptly finds himself at a crossroads when he meets the young leftist intellectual Kristýna, and not long afterwards Kamil, a guru with a strange connection to Kryštof’s deceased sister. The emerging pandemic is changing life as he knows it, making the possibility of the world’s end more real than ever—in fact, Kryštof might be headed towards a “personal apocalypse,” plagued by melancholy, the grotesque, intrusive memories and dark forebodings. He becomes a hesitant actor in what is either a story of great revelation or a cruel cosmic joke. Or a love story.