David Zabransky - 'I'm writing against Kundera, and against myself'

David Zabransky caused a stir with the release of his first novel 'Slabost pro kazdou jinou plaz' (or 'Any Beach But This' as it will be titled when it comes out in English). In March, he was named 'discovery of the year' at the prestigious Magnesia Litera awards. Perhaps appropriately for such a fan of dichotomies, readers seem to either love Mr. Zabransky's book, or hate it. His style has been likened to that of Milan Kundera - which is not something he is overly thrilled about:

"When I was writing the book, it didn't occur to me that this could happen. Because from my point of view, the whole tragedy of the book was how it was compared to Kundera. And the book I am trying to write now is against Kundera, and against myself - against the first book. So yeah, I wasn't happy about it at all, because it wasn't comparing me to Kundera at all, people were saying that I had copied him, which is never pleasant to hear. But it came, it came when I wrote sentences like 'let's take a look at the hero and see what he is doing now' etc. etc. But I think that the feel of the book is quite different from any of his."

There has been interest in David Zabransky on the other side of the Atlantic too. The first chapters of 'Any Beach But This' have been translated into English, with a view to being published.

Radio Prague got its hands on a copy - and so here are the opening lines of 'Any Beach But This', for the first time in English:

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Democracy on the loose! - Here I am in the café of the Musea Nacional del Prado, thinking of Vienna.
Bartlett (the guy I flew to Madrid to see) warned me about Vienna. He said that's where Hitler learned to hate the Jews. 'He was born in Austria, but to get his show on the road he had to move to Munich. Vienna couldn't stomach his paintings - those amateur daubs of his - or his Nazism.
Vienna's way is different: in-depth destruction. Instead of attacking from the outside, it destroys from within.'
Why go to a town where waltzes sound like marches and marches sound like waltzes? Why go to Vienna at all?

***

The novel is set all over Europe; in Madrid, Vienna, Charkiv, Ukraine and Bradford, England. The author dedicates a lot of time to examining where East meets West, and the relationship between Easterners and Westerners. I asked Mr. Zabransky why he was so interested in this theme:

"I'm from the Czech Republic and I'm in the middle of the West and the East. And that was my question - I'm living in the middle of everything, and what is my own position in this all? If I go to London, I sense that there is a certain way of looking at me in which I am not quite an equal. And I think I am quite sensitive to this. And I was interested in this, because it is based in history, it is based in part in geography, and it is not based in me, and so this was my question."

A part of your novel was set in England, and one of your characters says that there are two sides to England - one of them is 'tea and silence' and then the other is 'football terraces, beer, and social benefits' - so, is that really your impression of England, where did you form your impression of England?

"It's based on my short visits, but mostly, it is based upon my imagination, and my experiences in this wonderful city of Prague, where we meet a lot of British people. I have a certain perception which has been formed by the TV, which I consider to be a real reality-transmitter, but it is imagination mostly."

***

Unlike Spanish women she seems fluid, washed-out - in fact she reminds me of a watercolour, an artist's attempt to express disillusionment with the present, nostalgia, or at any rate some feeling that feeds on the past, not like the feeling I get when I look at those boldly striding Spanish women, confident in their bodies and clothes and gestures. She gets up and goes to look at a poster for an exhibition in the Prado. Then, left foot turned out, hips relaxed, she starts fiddling with the end of the scarf draped casually round her neck, first winding it onto her finger, then unwinding it until the scarf hangs once more against her blouse.

***

Extracts from the media, especially women's magazines, can be found throughout the novel. At times it seems that the book is very critical of these types of publication, but David Zabransky insists that this is not at all the case:

"I got an email from the chief editor of Czech Elle and she was really happy with the book, and said it was very well written. I have nothing against these magazines, I think the way we follow them, or the way women follow them is another story. But I have nothing against that. I don't see the world from the perspective of Elle or believe any of its propaganda. But no, generally speaking, I have nothing against these magazines. I enjoy them, I like reading them, I like reading Heidegger and then Elle. I like it."

And what is your favourite section of Elle then?

"Well, they give advice on how to manage your relationship, which I have problems with. So, I sometimes try to find an answer there, there are answers which don't work there, that's for sure, but sometimes it helps."

And for those wanting a teaser as to what Mr. Zabransky's next project will be about:

"This whole being modern-equals-being-trendy-equals-being-cool thing interests me so much. The whole of my second book will be nearly only about this. I am living in the modern times, and I want to be part of it. I don't want to be left behind in the 70s.

And how trendy are you, would you say?

"More than I thought, I think. The people that read my book mostly belong to the trendy golden youth of Prague, so I think that I am, but I don't feel it myself. I just hear and see things that make me think so; I don't pay attention to it, really. I spend hours at my cottage with my fishes. So no, that's not about being trendy - but I just feel like I will be dead if I am not 'now'. That's how I would answer that."

Well, there you have it - David Zabransky is a writer for our times, and we'll see if his novels, documenting the modern world, continue to be read into the future.