Petr Šabach (1951-2017) was a prose writer and journalist. Many of his books have been turned into successful films. His books have also been published in Polish – becoming bestsellers in Poland – and in Hungarian.
He studied at a secondary school specializing in library studies, then transferred to a grammar school; in 1969 he was expelled after he failed to return from his summer holidays in Great Britain until October. He ended up completing his studies in librarianship. He worked in manual occupations and was a gallery attendant.
The author’s style is described by Pavel Mandys on iLiteratura.cz thus: “The striking figure of Petr Šabach plays several important roles in the little pond of Czech literature. Above all, he is probably the most conspicuous successor to the tradition of Jaroslav Hašek and Bohumil Hrabal. He is reminiscent of Hašek mainly in the way he piles up (tragi)comic anecdotes, and Hrabal through his colloquial Czech, replete with references to intellectually demanding literature (in Šabach’s case there are also references to rock music). Compared to Hašek he lacks the ability to launch into these anecdotes and hyperbolize them in a sophisticated way; compared to Hrabal the language he uses is considerably simpler, but then Šabach’s understated writing flows very easily, which – when one considers the proliferation of contemporary texts which rely mainly on the use of their own special form – can be regarded as his own particular virtue.”
Šabach began by publishing short stories in magazines; the first book he had published was the collection of short stories Jak potopit Austrálii (How to Sink Australia, Československý spisovatel, 1986). It was this collection which contained the twenty-page story that was used as the basis for the film Šakalí léta (Jackal Years, 1993) by the scriptwriter Petr Jarchovský and the director Jan Hřebejek, as well as the inspiration for their film U mě dobrý (2008). In it Šabach depicted childhood and adolescence in the Prague district of Dejvice (which a number of the author’s texts refer to) in the 1950s and 60s. The communists’ arbitrary rule and the paradoxes of the time went on to dominate both the book Hovno hoří (Shit Burns, Paseka, 1994) and the film Pelíšky (Cosy Dens, 1998) which it was based on, once again by the duo of Jarchovský and Hřebejk. This was followed by Zvláštní problém Františka S. (The Peculiar Problem of František S., Paseka, 1996) and Putování mořského koně (Travels of a Sea Horse, Paseka, 1998).
Opilé banány (Drunk Bananas, Paseka, 2001) tells the story of four friends who decide to escape from the grey communist world to the seaside in a stolen car. As they get into one scrape after another and anecdote follows anecdote, the reader begins to realize how bitter the laughter that it provokes is. Šabach followed up on this successful novella with the loose sequel Čtyři muži na vodě aneb Opilé banány se vracejí (Four Men on the Water or The Return of the Drunk Bananas, Paseka, 2004).
In the novella Ramon (Paseka, 2005) two strange characters – the Native American Ramon and the writer Martin Luter – meet at the spring of the Virgin Mary of the Seven Sorrows in the fictional village of Kozloděj. This time it is not about an insight into the communist past but an ironic description of the present day through the eyes of an adolescent; Luter is sixteen and as a true aspiring writer he records everything that is happening around him.
This was followed by the novella Občanský průkaz (Identity Card, Paseka, 2006), which was made into a film of the same name (Ondřej Trojan, 2010), in which the author recalls Dejvice at the end of the sixties. The main characters get their first identity card in the fifties, hence the name.
The short stories Škoda lásky (Wasted Love, Paseka, 2009) connect love to music, especially to youthful bands which formed in garages and broke up before they even had the chance to appear in front of an audience for the first time. At some points the author also branched out from rock and roll to the world of classical world, and from Dejvice he moved on to Litomyšl.
The collection S jedním uchem naveselo (One Ear Happy, Paseka, 2011) goes beyond the borders of Dejvice and the Czech Republic in short stories examining complicated and amusing interpersonal relations. This was followed by the short stories Království za story (My Kingdom for a Story, Odeon, 2012) and the novella Máslem dolů (Butter Side Down, Paseka, 2013). The latter depicts the problems and escapades of two ageing heroes: Arnošt, who runs a secondhand bookshop (largely) without customers and Evžen, who loves America so much that he carries a gun under an American jacket.
Šabach’s last book book was Rothschildova flaška (Rothschild’s Bottle, Paseka, 2015), in which the author atypically sets out on an almost detective-like voyage to London.