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Péter DOBAI
( 1944 )

Biography

1944 born in Budapest
1963 graduates from József Eötvös Grammar School, Budapest
1963–65 sailor, then a steersman
1970 graduates in Philosophy and Italian Language and Literature from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1970–1994 assistant director, script editor and screenplay writer at MAFILM (Hungarian Film Company), Director at Béla Balázs Studio
1973–74 on scholarship in Cuba
1992-present member or the Hungarian Artists’ Academy

His Prizes include:
1973 Quality Prize of the Literary Fund, 1975 Quality Prize of the Magvető Publishing House, 1976, 82 Attila József Prize, 1981 The Best Screenplay of the Year Prize in Cannes, 1982 Cinema Narrative Prize, 1983 Film Critics’ Prize, 1990 Béla Balázs Prize, 2000 The Laureate of the Hungarian Republic, 2001 Authors’ Grand Prize (MAOE), 2001 Honorary Citizen of Ferencváros, 2004 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, Knight Cross

The Colonel of the Monarchy
1985

A birodalom ezredese (The Colonel of the Monarchy) 1985 Péter Dobai took his hero, the Colonel Alfred Redl, from Hungarian history, and writes the story of the scrupulously dutiful, highly ambitious, but at the same time featureless, man with both the excitement of an adventure story and also a deep atmospheric effect. Redl readily sacrifices everything for his career, for example, ending a relationship with a female companion (this is partly motivated by his latent homosexuality). He is the commander of the Military Intelligence Service of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the finest Balkan expert in the empire, but is called upon to commit suicide, being charged with handing information over to rival powers, and he fulfils this order just as mechanically as the rest. Redl’s life and death ultimately becomes the symbol of the Monarchy’s collapse. Freely adapting this and other literary sources (John Osborne’s play, A Patriot for Me!, Egon Erwin Kisch’s articles of investigation and Stefan Zweig’s writings), Dobai wrote the screenplay for István Szabó’s film Redl ezredes (Colonel Redl, 1984).

Arch
1988

Ív (Arch) 1988 A novel of a relationship’s limit. Twenty years before, János and Anka’s love had somehow subsided, and since then they both have been living in new marriages, in new circumstances. But this does not prevent the famous and popular architect and the beautiful lawyer from meeting or from setting out on a romantic week-end to a forester’s lodge in the Pilis. Meanwhile, it starts snowing, making exit from the little house impossible, the lovers have to extend their stay two days longer than planned, until soldiers come to their rescue. In the house they are the guests of unbridled love; in the outside world there are the old arrangements. János Tegyei’s equally beautiful wife, Szilvia, accidentally uncovers her husband’s alibi and wants a divorce, but János can easily convince her to stay—and Anka’s husband has not even realized that his wife was not actually visiting her mother in the country. The architect indulges in talking about his profession, whether in a television interview, in front of his university students or in personal conversations. He talks about the relationship between architecture and music, the rhythms of space; for him, buildings and relationships mirror one another—this is what the title refers to. In a bitter moment the protagonist articulates the impossibility of self-knowledge. “To flee with Anka, today, tomorrow the latest, by train, plain, car or even on a hydrofoil on the Danube?! Would this be modus vivendi? Would this be the defence of the “arch”, of “arching”? Would this be the great scheme? Or only a great dream?” His questions remain unanswered.

Today Easier, Tomorrow Futher
2003

Ma könnyebb. Holnap messzebb (Today Easier, Tomorrow Futher) 2003 Dobai started as a poet and indeed from time to time returns to poetry. In his eighth book, his philosophical, thoughtful poems are motivated by his rich life and his past as a seaman (“Csepel, Szabad kikötő, 1963”—Csepel, Free Port, 1963). On the one hand, there are memories of the past; on the other hand, however, there is a demand to escape from circumstances, to seek the cause or the random nature of things. The title of the book is taken from the first two lines of the poem “Viszontlátás sötét kora” (The Dark Era of Meeting Again): Today easier. Tomorrow further. I’m going to live. I’m staying to die. —these lines express both the playful and the philosophical. The alternatives one expects in the text (today-tomorrow; easier-more difficult, or: closer-further; go-stay; live-die) suggest a choice: “I’m staying to die” is a similar decision to “going to live” (somewhere else) in a younger stage of life. The road becomes a metaphor for life (and career): We’ll go without a road But get there, in vain is our arrival pointless —If with difficulty, we’ll become an encyclopaedia “The universal and existential questions that in fact inspire [Dobai’s] poems, are timeless, even if his poetry is organised around the problem of time, its fleeting nature and memory. The book can be read as someone’s private metaphysics, although it is not its (system-) creating nature, but its seeking–inquiring ‘method’ that makes it so. Only poetry with a really philosophical demand can state, ‘Könnyű lenni, létezni, de élni nehéz...’ (It is easy to be and to exist, but difficult to live).” -Zsolt Szalai

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