The work of David Zábranský is primarily concerned with life in central Europe, which he addresses with reference to typical problems of youth, immaturity and growing up. Superiority and subordination is another theme that makes a frequent appearance. Born in Prague in 1977, Zábranský is the author of seven works of fiction (novels, novellas, short stories), a radio play and a stage play. After graduating in Law, Journalism and Media Studies from Charles University, he worked as a lawyer in the NGO sector; his main interests were in human rights, assistance to refugees and equality for the Roma community. He is currently editor-in-chief of the Czech Literature Online website. He lives in Prague.
In 2007, Zábranský was awarded the Czech Republic’s Magnesia Litera prize for his fiction debut, the novel Any Beach But This: Notes on the sea, laughter and the spirit of the times (Slabost pro každou jinou pláž. Poznámky k moři, smíchu a duchu doby); it has been translated into Hungarian. Zábranský’s most extensive work, Martin Juhás or Czechoslovakia (Martin Juhás čili Československo), a magic realist novel about the history of Czechs and Slovaks from the founding of their state in 1918 until the communist putsch of 1948, was published in 2015 to critical acclaim. This work was later shortlisted for the Josef Škvorecký Prize and the Czech Book Award.
A selection of titles
Northern Renaissance. About a German Who Moved with the Times (Za Alpami. O jednom Němci, který šel s dobou)
Publisher: Větrné Mlýny, Brno, 2017
Genre: Literary fiction
Why do contemporary Europeans, with all their achievements, feel so hopeless? This daring novel explores Central European consciousness, with little regard for etiquette or mores.
The author describes the fate of two generations of a family living in Germany and the Czech Republic. He uses this topic as a backdrop against which to examine the sociocultural relationship between the two countries and, more broadly, the current prevailing attitude towards life in Central Europe. In an irreverent and disturbing way he deals with the question of how far united Europe has come and what will happen next.
This is a masterful accomplishment in the “Realistic Fiction“ category. Zábranský’s storytelling is like a flytrap, it is so catchy. The majority of contemporary Czech writers despise the politics; yet in the ideologies and antagonisms of current politics, this author, has taken to it like a fish to water.
Petr Bílek, Literární noviny
Zábranský offers a range of provocative declarations which might outrage and irritate but make you pause. These declarations can crash ideological stereotypes but can also sound like a venomous spit.
Petra Smítalová, Lidové noviny
Martin Juhás or Czechoslovakia (Martin Juhás čili Československo)
Publisher: Premedia, Bratislava, 2015
The book was shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera prize, the Josef Škvorecký Prize and the Czech Book Award.
Have you heard about the little boy who would occasionally pop out into the big wide world while still in his mother’s womb? And what if the unborn boy’s actions were directly related to historical events? This cleverly constructed story transports us to a small town in South Bohemia, where Ján Juhás travels in search of work in 1922 to escape the poverty of Slovakia. Although the adventures of the young Slovak worker are a key part of the story, they are just one narrative thread in this tale of primitive nationalism, an act of rape and a curse, which builds to an unexpected denouement.
The establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the global economic crisis, the breakup of Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1930s, the Second World War, the expulsion of the Germans – all of this is observed from the perspective of small-town characters. However, this is not a historical novel in the traditional sense of the word. Although the author employs a wide range of historical and geographical elements, at the same time he is creating a story where the way the story is told plays at least as important a role as the world that is being described. The novel organically blends together several types of storytelling; there are echoes of Sterne, Hašek, Rabelais and the Central European modernists Kafka, Kubin, Musil, as well as the more recent approaches of Latin American magical realism.
Zábranský’s new weighty yet playful novel stands out as an exceptional and remarkable piece of work – even when it is considered within the context of Czech literature over the last twenty years.
Petr A. Bílek, Respekt
Martin Juhás or Czechoslovakia is a great novel. I would go so far as to say that it will become a significant milestone in the development of historical literature.
Marek Dobrý, Lógr magazín
From the very first paragraphs, Zábranský captivates the reader with his complex sentence construction, which employs lengthy compound sentences and yet still manages to flow in a natural and readable way.
Pavel Mandys, Hospodářské noviny
Stern’s Attempt to Love (Šternův pokus milovat)
Publisher: Argo, Praha, 2008
Rights sold: Spanish
Bertrand Štern is a young intellectual in the midst of an existential crisis. He finds no satisfaction either in his career or in his love life. After the breakdown of yet another relationship, he decides to go to the film festival in Karlovy Vary – with the intention of finding new love there, rather than to watch films. During his stay Bertrand is introduced to the porn actress Marie and is immediately attracted to her. He also gets to know Lucie, who works for an NGO and is at the festival looking after blind visitors. Bertrand develops emotional ties to both women, but again he fails to build a relationship. A novel about a man who appears to lose his emotional self between pornography, philosophy and art, while craving vainly to find deeper meaning and fullfilment in life.
I read Štern’s Attempt to Love as a reflection of how today’s world is being emptied. Erotica on the imaginary border between porn and vulgarity presents a much sharper view of social disintegration in the globalized world.
Zdenko Pavelka, Právo
Štern is rather like narrators in Houellebecq and Bernhard – the more irascible the tone in which they spit out their hate, the more we suspect a craving for love and human understanding under the surface. In the end, this is probably Zábranský’s greatest weapon.
Michaela Hečková, Reflex
Zábranský’s portrait of young adults who never encountered communism and have nothing more with which to get to grips than their own hedonism, may one day serve as a fine sociological definition of this particular generation.
Pavel Mandys, Týden
Any Beach But This (Slabost pro každou jinou pláž)
Publisher: Argo, Praha, 2006
The book received the Magnesia Litera prize in 2007. It was published in Hungary in 2014.
The author’s debut discards the established clichés of Czech Prose. Elegantly and humorously, using an original novel form – a bildungsroman without morality and development – it projects the lives of intentionally schematic characters, symbols and victims of their cultures onto such diverse topics as suffering, tourism, Auschwitz and kindness, the end of history and make-up.
We read about East and West and the illusions of one in regard to the other, about women’s magazines, long-distance adoption, Auschwitz, Mahler, Wittgenstein, Hitler, revolution … about thoughts which we are afraid to voice. And what of the whole? It is a spectacular evocation of an age whose spirit is difficult to grasp, an age desecrated by ideology and advertising, an age simultaneously absurd and tragic.
Ivan Matějka, Hospodářské noviny
While certain readers may not wish for further deliberations on who is to blame for Auschwitz, they may be fascinated by the stories of a number of people from different corners of today’s Europe who have one thing in common – they are lost in the monotonous motions of the economic machinery of that very Europe.
Jan Beneš, TIME IN
This is a well-informed work with a highly cultivated voice.