Lithuanian Literature in Translation

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9781934824054Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis, translated by Elizabeth Novickas

Published by Open Letter Books, 2009

A survivor of the labour camps, Vytautas Vargalys is a physically and mentally damaged man obsessed with finding out what’s “really going on” in Soviet-ruled Vilnius. He’s stuck working an absurd job–creating a digital catalog for a library that no one is allowed to access–but finds meaning by tracking all of the so-called clues about “them” that he uncovers wherever he looks: in books, in the death of his best friend, and in the beautiful women sent to work at the library. One of these beautiful women is Lolita, a woman with a mysterious past and a growing love for Vargalys. Their tragic relationship forms the crux of this novel, which chronicles the surreal absurdities and horrors of life under Soviet rule.

9781908251817Memoirs of a Life Cut Short by Ričardas Gavelis, translated by Jayde Will

Published by Vagabond Voices, 2018

Levas Ciparis, the anti-hero of this critique of life in the late Soviet Union, is a man alone and he desperately wants to belong. He is obstructed in this quest by his own innocence and decency, which occasionally cause him to act with absurd inflexibility. In fact, the irresolvable tension between moral probity and necessary compromise is one of the many themes of this novel: “Yes, I truly did believe that if I took up the work of the Komsomol, I would being an honest, sufficiently pure, persistent person, most certainly be capable of changing and enriching that community.” In part, the first-person narration describes the process of being disabused of that delusion.

tundra_2018_cream_web-768x1216Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, translated by Delija Valiukenas

Published by Peirene Press, 2018

In 1941, 14-year-old Dalia and her family are deported from their native Lithuania to a labour camp in Siberia. As the strongest member of her family, she submits to twelve hours a day of manual labour. At the age of 21, she escapes the gulag and returns to Lithuania. She writes her memories on scraps of paper and buries them in the garden, fearing they might be discovered by the KGB. They are not found until 1991, four years after her death. This is the story Dalia buried.

716rabX9qYLTūla by Jurgis Kunčinas, translated by Elizabeth Novickas

Published by Pica Pica Press, 2016

Set over a number of years spanning a good part of the late Soviet era, the unnamed narrator of Jurgis Kunčinas’s Tūla is our tour guide through the infamous poverty-stricken bohemian quarter of Vilnius known as Uzupis (literally, “beyond the river”), living his life on the fringes of society, including his journeys through various institutions for alcohol treatment. On the way we meet a number of curious inhabitants of this unique district, everyone from a chemistry professor with an exhibitionist problem to the descendant of a 15th-century Lithuanian hetman obsessively carving wooden masks all night long. It’s a place where you’re likely to encounter people walking both sides of the moral line, where one is just as likely to run into great kindness as unfeeling evil, and where the complex history and mix of cultures that make up the city of Vilnius constantly intrude into the present. But at the very heart of the narrative is the narrator’s tragic love for the equal misfit Tūla, a love the narrator carries with him throughout his chaotic existence.

9781908251848White Shroud by Antanas Škėma, translated by Karla Gruodis

Published by Vagabond Voices, 2018

White Shroud is considered by many to be Lithuania’s most important work of modernist fiction. Drawing heavily on the author’s own refugee and immigrant experience, this psychological, stream-of-consciousness work tells the story of an emigre poet working as a bellhop in a large New York hotel during the mid-1950s. Via multiple narrative voices and streams, the novel moves through sharply contrasting settings and stages in the narrator’s life in Lithuania before and during WWII, returning always to New York and the recent immigrant’s struggle to adapt to a completely different, and indifferent, modern world.

9780720620337Darkness and Company by Sigitas Parulskis, translated by Karla Gruodis

Published by Peter Owen Publishers, 2018

Lithuania, 1941, Vincentas has made a Faustian pact with an SS officer: in exchange for his own safety and that of his Jewish lover, Judita, he will take photographs – “make art” – of the mass killings of Jews in the villages and forests of his occupied homeland. Learning of the pact that has kept her safe for so long, a disgusted Judita returns to her husband, surrendering herself to the ghetto, leaving Vincentas alone and trapped in his horrifying work.

9780995560000Breathing Into Marble by Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė, translated by Marija Marcinkute

Published by Noir Press, 2016

When Isabel decides to adopt the troubled young orphan, Ilya, she has no idea of the trauma that is about to be unleashed upon her family. Taking him back home to their cottage in the country, his dark presence unsettles the family and resurrects the ghosts of Isabel’s past. Breathing into Marble is a dark and poetic story of love, family, deception, and death. Winner of the 2009 EU Prize for Literature.

31189050_9781786074683_xlIn The Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Šlepikas, translated by Romas Kinka

Published by Oneworld Publications, 2019

The Second World War is drawing to a close, but the world is far from safe. Left to fend for themselves, women and children are forced out of their homes in East Prussia to make way for the advancing victors. As the Russian soldiers arrive, the women know that they are still very much in danger and that for them, the fight for survival is only just beginning. Facing critical food shortages and the onset of a bitterly cold winter without heat, the women send their children into the nearby forests where they secretly cross the border into Lithuania, begging the local farmers for work or food to take back home to their waiting families. Along the way, the children find cruelty, hardship, and violence, but also kindness, hope, and the promise of a new and better future.

Love song coverShtetl Love Song by Grigory Kanovich, translated by Elliot Cohen

Published by Noir Press, 2017

In Shtetl Love Song, Grigory Kanovich tells the story of his mother and in doing so peels back the surface of the Jewish community that lived in pre-war Lithuania. Set against the backdrop of the political turmoil of the 1930s, Kanovich lovingly recalls his native Jonava; its rich merchants and impoverished cobblers, the beggars and the gossips. He traces the growing fear of the Nazis, the Russian invasion, the political persecution and the arrests and the exiles that shaped a nation. Shtetl Love Song is a requiem for the pre-war Jewish shtetl, for a people and a way of life that was destroyed in the maelstrom of war.

the-last-day-21The Last Day by Jaroslavas Melnikas, translated by Marija Marcinkute

Published by Noir Press, 2018

Short story collection by Lithuanian-Ukrainian writer Jaroslavas Melnikas. Jura finds that the favourite rooms in his house, each designed to reflect an aspect of his personality, are disappearing one by one. He remembers perfectly well playing the piano in “The Grand Piano Room”. However, the other members of his family deny the room ever existed. In The Last Day, a family discovers an app that tells them on which day one of them will die. An architect receives letters from God giving him choices which throw him into a moral dilemma.

Ausra_1024x1024The Moon is a Pill by Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, translated by Rimas Uzgiris

Published by Parthian Books, 2019

Aušra Kaziliūnaitė’s poetry has been described as “post-avant-garde”; she is unafraid to shock readers with her surreal, ugly-beautiful imagery, alternative form, and regular resistance to the rigidity of social norms. In The Moon is a Pill, a collection of the best of Aušra’s poetry, the reader discovers the extent of the poet’s social engagement, mixed with a swirl of psychedelia through an existential lens. As she walks around her city, questioning God, stalked by an abandoned stuffed bird, finding a grubby child in an egg, searching for answers in bus stops and windows, her writing is intimate and personal, yet never reassuring, never fluffy, and often with a quiet nod to the complex political past of her country.

Marius_1024x1024Now I Understand by Marius Burokas, translated by Rimas Uzgiris

Published by Parthian Books, 2019

Marius Burokas’ poetry collection, Now I Understand, reveals the unbreakable connection he feels with Vilnius, as well as the comfort he finds within literature: books are my/ paths/ and garden/my shelter /and clinic. His words aim to capture the details our eyes might miss, and dip in and out of religion, history, literature, and mythology to describe a stark reality of life and death and the emptiness and beauty that can be found in both. Marius states: “I am a poet and translator. Sometimes I write, mostly about Vilnius – the strangest and most mystical city. Poetry is a way to think. It’s an internal map of Europe, Asia, Lithuania and the world.”

newThe Music Teacher by Renata Šerelytė, translated by Marija Marcinkute

Published by Noir Press, 2018

A small town police investigator broods obsessively on her tragic love affair with her school music teacher in Soviet Lithuania. After the town is shaken by the murder of a teenage girl, the investigation seems to dry up. When her ex-lover, now a local politician, tries to close down the case, she begins to suspect that he may have been involved.

51M-6u3wEIL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The Easiest by Rasa Aškinytė, translated by Jura Avizienis

Published by Noir Press, 2017

Blanka lives on the first floor of a wooden house that can only be reached by climbing a painted ladder. She thinks this must be the reason why she never has any visitors – who would be silly enough to “climb a ladder”? She spends most of her days in France. No, not the real France…
If someone said he was falling in love with her, in Blanka’s eyes this was only due to the “lack of anything to say at all”. Normally she has the misfortune of stumbling on common household utensils or weird people. So weird that they look real… Blanka is filled with lives of different people – lovers, best friends, neighbours… As if she was searching for herself in their thoughts. As if she would recognize herself only in their eyes.

61C0ReJpzzL._SY484_BO1,204,203,200_The Fox on the Swing by Evelina Daciutè, illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Published by Thames & Hudson, 2018

Learn about family, happiness, and friendship in this hope-filled children’s book. The story starts with a boy named Paul, who lives in a cosy treehouse in a big city with his family. And then something unexpected happens―Paul befriends a wise, friendly fox on a walk home from the bakery. The fox gives Paul a space to think about what makes him happy and what friendship means―all in the pages of a bright and quirky storybook. Join Paul and the fox while helping young readers decide what makes them happy.

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