Sailing Ships on Labels

Jiří Hájíček

Jiří Hájíček: Sailing Ships on Labels

Original title: Plachetnice na vinětách

Genre: novel


Host, 2020

ISBN: 978-80-275-0209-7

Pages: 296

Foreign editions:

German (Karl Rauch Verlag, 2021, Kristina Kallert), Macedonian (Slavika Libris, 2021, Donka Rous and Daniela Rous-Miševska), Latvian (Pētergailis, 2022, Halina Lapiňa)

Rights sold to:

Bulgaria (Izida)


The distance between people can be endless


Marie, a divorced, forty-seven-year-old university lecturer in literature, has ended up spending the summer in her sister’s half-empty apartment in Český Krumlov. From there, she drives out to the country to visit her parents, who are seriously ill. In her free moments, she braves the hordes of tourists in Krumlov’s historical, picturesque streets—which is where she meets Filip, a young bookseller. The early days of their romance are redolent of hot July days and numerous literary connotations.

But nothing is more important to Marie right now than straightening out her relationship with her sister and taking care of their parents, the father dominant, the mother mild-mannered and self-sacrificing. Plus, she must get used to her solitude – which is like being stuck in a time warp pregnant with memories, and also serves notice of old age. As she looks back on the family tradition of strong male role models, Marie asks herself where her life should go next, and what she should do with her ‘Shakespearean love’…    


"Twelve months of 2018 as twelve chapters of the latest novel by a writer who deserves the State Prize for Literature, even though he recently refused to accept it. This sequence of months is disrupted by October, which is placed in a cinematic way at the beginning of the story: the reader is thus familiarized with the themes, the characters and the rhythm, but at the same time nothing is revealed. (…) The tension between the country and the town, between generations, electorates, pragmatism and romance, givenness and choice, is not dramatic; instead of theatrical gestures, the author embroiders with a split stitch, and the subtle descriptions suit this variant of the village novel (not meant in a pejorative way).  It is very chaste writing, and so perhaps more mysterious than the naturalistic Blitzkrieg that is more frequently met with here."

Jakub Šofar, Salon, Právo


"It is admirable what empathy and psychological knowledge Hájíček (a man in his fifties after all) can summon up to get inside the heroine’s feelings, without needing excessive depictions of emotions or intimate analyses. Without verbal ballast, as we know it from his other books, he follows the symbolically named Marie in various situations on her thorny path in a restrained narrative style.

Life is no feather bed. It’s a struggle. With family history, with relations in the village, where leaving for the city in search of a better life is still not entirely forgivable, with shattered illusions, a struggle with oneself.

Even with demands which at a certain time have to be postponed.

Jiří Hájíček refers to all this. He does so very well, but without wearing the reader down, as it is done with ease, knowledge of human nature and humour, which is fortunately not lacking in his characters and his rejoinders, as well as in the happy ending, which the author openly wishes for Marie, albeit with a question mark." 

Jana Podskalská, Deník


"Jiří Hájíček’s novels have their exclusive place on the Czech literary market. Throughout his work  he maintains thematic continuity, and his latest novel Sailing Ships on Labels does not diverge from this trend. 


Sailing Ships on Labels is a pleasant read, even though the topics Jiří Hájíček writes about are not so pleasant. However, the author avoids overly fraught situations and everything leads to the reconciliation that you subconsciously long for.  You have to appreciate that this novel is not just non-stop depression, which would only wear the reader down."

Jiří Lojín, Vaše literatura


"Contemporary Czech prose perhaps has no more successful and popular author than this South Bohemian with the looks of a modest banker, whom we so often see on television accepting literary prizes. But what is behind Hájíček’s success, which will surely be repeated in his latest, Sailing Ships on Labels? He is one of the few authors who writes about ordinary people without slipping into banality or romanticism. Hájíček writes unspectacularly, without pathos, but with care and precision. This time it is about Marie, a divorcee in her forties from Prague, who travels to Český Krumlov, where she creates a late Bildungsroman out of her life."

Jonáš Zbořil, Czech Radio, Radio Wave


"Sailing Ships are full of masterpiece images."

Klára Kubíčková, Vlasta


"This novel is a safe bet, as Jiří Hájíček, despite being a man, has depicted women’s emotions believably and without excessive pathos.


Don’t expect any great events or dramas in Sailing Ships on Labels. There the acclaimed author has moved elsewhere, to describing ordinary interpersonal relationships, which are not straightforward and whose solution is often beyond our power.

And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known the person or how old s/he is. That unwanted loneliness -- coupled with thoughts like “why doesn’t s/he understand?” is somewhere deep inside all of us. That’s why you can understand Hájíček’s chief protagonist Marie from the very first lines."

Lenka Hloušková, Novinky


"Jiří Hájíček is one of the fixed stars in the Czech literary firmament. His balanced output is set in the South Bohemian landscape and offers an even ratio between the local environment and the general message. Just as Wallachia has its Vaculík or Bajaja, so South Bohemia has its Hájíček.

(…) Refined writing and knowledge of the area -- these are the author’s strengths."

Pavel Kotrla, Týdeník Rozhlas


"Fifty-two-year-old Jiří Hájíček is a writer who is best characterized by the word unpretentiousness. Although he is a well-educated and well-read writer, he writes in a traditional, clear, understandable linear manner, without stylistic exhibitions and compositional finesses."

Pavel Mandys, Aktuálně


"Born in 1967, Hájíček has now written one of his best books. It is comparable in quality to the award-winning trilogy Rustic Baroque, Fish Blood and The Rainstick. And perhaps even to his collection of para-haikus, Man on the Point of Ignition, published in January last year.


Sailing Ships on Labels is a novel whose theme brings together several motifs of equal value. The tensions between the village and the city, between the past and the present, between ancient guilt and present-day punishment.

The pain of ending a marital relationship, the imminent death of parents, estrangement between siblings; "the pain of knowing the finitude of life and things".  A private meditation on human loneliness, on the human inability to “communicate your situation” to others, as well as on the possibilities and limits of technological substitutes such as the mobile phone.  It is also on the restorative strength that grows out of an awareness of belonging and out of generational continuity.

Jiří Hájíček has written an ordinary, muted indeed minimalist book with no violence of expression. Its strength lies in the spoken and the unspoken, and in the possible. In subject matter that is immediately relevant to everybody: everyone’s parents die at some point, everyone has a bloody argument with a sibling, everyone is desperately and hopelessly alone at times.  There are spectres slumbering in everyone. The finale of Sailing Ships on Labels is set at Christmastime, which may seem a little melodramatic, like kitsch -- but then what is kitsch?  Repetition, simplification, stereotyping. And like it or not, stereotyping is the basis of human life.  Hájíček’s fiction is an excellent guide to accepting, reflecting on and overcoming this fact. How to shake free of it high above the clouds."

Radim Kopáč, Lidové noviny


"This novel also boasts all Hájíček’s authorial strengths that were behind the success of the rural trilogy: Rustic Baroque, Fish Blood and Rainstick.

Sailing Ships on Labels is firmly based on the author’s unadorned but precise linguistic style.


Hájíček has done an excellent job on this excursion into the world of women’s minds and souls, if we can still call them that today. (...) Sailing Ships on Labels simply makes smart, pleasant (...) reading."

 Monika Zavřelová, MF DNES


"Jiří Hájíček is a master at capturing the magic of the everyday moment. He didn’t even need a grand narrative or historical background for Sailing Ships on Labels, just one woman in her forties and her year(ning) from her divorce in January to her reconciliation at Christmas.  Nonviolent but strong... like Fish Blood, from a female perspective."

Ondřej Fencl, Reflex


"The writer Jiří Hájíček is one of the few Czech authors who are strongly associated with a particular region, and yet his work appeals to readers from all corners of our country. 


In this novel Hájíček has also demonstrated a good inside knowledge of womanhood and has endowed his main character with many distinctive features that reflect her family history and her calling in life. A reader of either gender can thus easily identify with the chief protagonist of his book and watch her difficult search for lost (self-) confidence with the required suspense and compassion.  Nor does [the story] lack numerous striking images, such as the absent-minded Marie at the divorce proceedings or the scene that explains the novel’s title.

Jiří Hájíček’s latest novel does not open up deep social traumas, as has been the case with his most acclaimed prose works, although we do come up against some of those skeletons in the closet again.  However, the author manages to breathe life into an unusual female character and to tell her story in an engaging way, which, despite its seemingly banal plot, poses many a burning question that we ourselves would like to know the answer to, perhaps the most important one being: Are we in this world primarily for ourselves, or do we have to be there for our families at all times?"

Peter Nagy, Literární.cz


"Hájíček is one of those authors whose work maintains a stable literary standard."

Petr Hanuška, Hospodářské noviny


"[Some previous reviewers] miss the point of the novel, although somewhere in its depths they find a hidden answer to a number of quite distressing problems in society, and not only our own.  Hájíček avoids politics, but the family and the other relationships of his characters accurately mirror today’s fatal rupture between the mentality of the town and the country, real-life practice and book theory, the non-transferability of generational experience, and the “pain of the awareness of the finitude of life and things” that increases with age.

However, Hájíček avoids any external attractions involving style or motive; he requires readerly empathy, elementary sympathy and understanding, and this may be a problem, though not so much his as that of modern-day readerly superficiality and torpour.

What roles do fate and will play in our lives? Hájíček constantly asks this, while aware that it is in these matters that the weight of loneliness weighs most heavily..."

Třistatřicettři, Czech Television

More books from the author