LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2013 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 59, No.4 - Winter 2013
Editor of this issue: Mikas Vaicekauskas
Petras Cvirka and the Editing of Frank Kruk
ELIZABETH NOVICKAS is a translator and chief editor of Lituanus. Her translation of Giedra Radvilavičiűtë’s essays was published this year by Dalkey Archive Press; she plans to self-publish a translation of Frank Kruk in 2014.
Before translating a classic work, it behooves the translator to examine variations in the text. Evidence suggests that Petras Cvirka twice revised his first book, Frank Kruk, a 1934 comic novel about a Lithuanian farm boy who immigrates to America. A textual analysis of a copy of the first edition, with revisions in Cvirka’s hand, finds that his first alterations, done shortly after the novel was published, consisted largely of responses to published criticisms. The second edit, done in preparation for a Russian translation of the work and used in all subsequent Lithuanian editions, is a revealing example of self-censorship in response to Soviet norms.
To the interpreter, texts often appear as images of time; to the maker of texts, however, they are the very events of time and history itself. Jerome J. McGann, The Textual Condition
Petras Cvirka’s role as a member of the delegation that traveled to Moscow to deliver a resolution asking for Lithuania’s incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 has forever marred his reputation as a writer, even though a great deal of his writing, including the satire Frank Kruk, was done before he was actually admitted into the Communist Party in 1940. The novel was, in fact, his earliest: it was first published in 1934, when the author was only twenty-five years old.
|A kneeling Petras Cvirka, Salomëja Nëris, and Liudas Gira,
published in the Kaunas newspaper XX amţiaus on May 4, 1940, shortly before the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania.
The caption reads, “A foreign whip is surely the best source of inspiration for some writers...”
Not surprisingly, the paper ceased publication in August of that year.
Because of his collaboration with and his work for the Soviet government, Cvirka’s reputation remains under a cloud to this day. After his early death (under mysterious circumstances in 1947), he was widely lionized in Soviet Lithuania. His works were translated into numerous languages; he even had a postage stamp issued in his honor. But unlike most Soviet figures, his statue in Vilnius remains standing, a museum of his childhood home in the village of Klangiai, Tauragë County, still operates, and his works are still taught in schools. My interest in translating the first volume of his two-volume novel Frank Kruk, which deals with the transformation of the Lithuanian village boy Pranas Krukelis into the American businessman Frank Kruk, can be traced in part to the book’s relevance to me as an American of Lithuanian descent, in part to my fascination with the Soviet era in Lithuania, and in part to Cvirka’s undeniable talent at satire.
Before undertaking the task of translating a work, the translator is obliged to examine any variations of a text that may exist. A notorious case is that of the essayist Montaigne, who revised his famous essays over a period of over twenty years, published five different versions, and left behind annotations for a sixth. When I compared the first 1934 edition of Cvirka’s Frank Kruk with the 1972 edition, it was immediately obvious that the two versions differed. This led me to investigate how and when these changes took place and to make some conjectures about what Cvirka was aiming at in revising his work.
I began by carefully comparing these two editions and then checking all of the other Lithuanian versions. Besides the 1934 edition and its second printing later that year, Frank Kruk was published four times as a separate book (1948, 1953, 1966, and 1972) and three times as part of Cvirka’s collected works (1949, 1959, and 1983). My checking was fairly superficial: I merely looked for several distinctive differences. The first, 1934, edition appears to be unique: all of the following editions contain the revisions introduced in the second, 1948, edition. Although there may be small differences (and surely typographical errors) among the various post-1948 versions, I leave that explication to other scholars.
Although Cvirka had never been to America, he had worked for several years as a correspondent and distributor for Lithuanian-American newspapers. He based his novel partly upon the knowledge he had gained of America from these newspapers, partly on his experiences with Lithuanians returning from America, and partly upon his reading of authors like Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair. We find, for example, a reference in Frank Kruk to Lewis’s fictitious state of Winamac; I have no evidence that would show whether Cvirka realized it was fictitious or not. We also find amusing neologisms, such as the small gray sea bird he calls a vyplis, probably based on the word vyplinti, “to walk around gaping.” It took me a while to realize Cvirka had come up with a calque for the booby, which is indeed a sea bird, but is neither small, gray, nor likely to be found in the latitudes a ship bound for the United States would find itself in.
Cvirka’s wildly exuberant satire, touching upon everything from Lithuanian village life to the American pursuit of money, to the crooked dealings of Lithuanians who cheat the successful businessman Kruk out of his hard-earned dollars, unleashed a torrent of criticism on the American side of the pond, where many Lithuanian immigrants took offense at his portrait of a Lithuanian-American businessman and frequently expressed this by pointing out inaccuracies in Cvirka’s descriptions of America.1 Cvirka’s book was also, ironically, considering Cvirka’s later status in the Communist Party, criticized by the radical Communist Zigmas Angarietis, who actually accused Cvirka of writing the book “to order for the nationalist- fascists”2 and claimed that the book did nothing to shame Lithuania’s bourgeoisie; they just found it funny! But a number of Lithuanian critics admired young Cvirka’s efforts, including Antanas Venclova, who wrote a glowing review answering many of the points raised by Cvirka’s detractors. Several objected to the structure of the novel(s) and the uneven tone of the work,3 and some took offense at the satire of life in Lithuania as painted in the second volume, which covered Kruk’s return to Lithuania and his downfall at the hands of various swindlers.
Cvirka appeared to agree – to a certain degree – with these criticisms. In a 1934 article responding to criticism of his book, particularly to that by Karolis Vairas-Račkauskas, Cvirka deftly put his satire to work in its defense: “Many undertakers completely misunderstand my good intentions. It seems I composed a kind of advertisement for them, the best I could. I praised the coffins, their business abilities, and described them as patriots, too.” But he also wrote that “I myself have a worse opinion of my book than my dear reviewers. I know its flaws and weaknesses as I would my child’s, and although he’s crooked and hunchbacked, I must take the responsibility on my shoulders.”4 He also published a lively response to a particularly venomous review by the Lithuanian-American author Antanas Tulys (writing under the pseudonym Marcas Baukas). Both of these critics’ comments will be discussed in more detail below.
It is apparent that Cvirka truly was dissatisfied with his efforts, since it is known he made two separate attempts to edit the first volume of the novel after its publication: once for a Latvian translation (I will refer to this as Edit I), and a second time in the 1940s, apparently in preparation for a Russian translation of the book (Edit II).5 In an August 1935 letter to Vladimiras Sakavičius, the editor of a Polish newspaper who expressed an interest in publishing Frank Kruk in installments, Cvirka wrote about his edits for the Latvian translation.6 The timing of this letter allows setting a date for Edit I to before August of 1935, even though the Latvian translation was not published until 1941.7 In the following analysis, I will first remark on the revisions he made in preparation for the Latvian-language version and then on Edit II
The copy of the first volume of the 1934 edition with Cvirka’s edit marks is kept at the Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Institute in Vilnius.8 It contains some markings in pencil (underlining of individual words accompanied by sequential numbers in the margins) and ink markings in red and black. The pencil marks appear to be those of the translator: the numbered, underlined words appear to consist of words whose meanings the Latvian translator could not understand – they are mostly English words assimilated into Lithuanian-American speech, either those Cvirka had actually heard, or those he had made up himself. These include mainas (mine), orait (all right), dţëlas (jail) or monkei (monkey). The red ink markings appear only at the beginning of the book; black ink marks appear throughout. Both appear to be Cvirka’s. However, in his 1958 monograph on Cvirka, Dovydas Judelevičius points out significant differences between the markings in this copy and the actual published translation:
According to Cvirka’s letter to Sakavičius, he believed that the novel was “full of specific spots of more interest only to a Lithuanian reader, and the novel’s second volume is rather drawn-out and architecturally poorly ‘glued’ together.” But because there is no physical evidence of Cvirka’s editing other than the extant copy of the Lithuanian book with his markings and the mention of his edits in the August 1935 letter, we do not know whether the Latvian translation as published was edited by Cvirka in some other form than the marked copy we have, or if it was edited by some other party, such as the translator or the publisher. For this reason, I will confine myself to the edits known to be by his hand.
The first edit Cvirka made in the text was to delete more than six pages of the introductory section, starting at page 10, containing a long digression about an imaginary king.10 He left a single paragraph addressing the reader, and then removed most of a digression about his grandmother Anastazija, leaving only the last sentence of this section (see the excerpt following this article). This certainly seems like a bold start in cutting out the digressions criticized by many reviewers.11 The section regarding Frank’s early life as Pranas Krukelis contains only three minor deletions (one is a single word; another, an independent clause within a sentence; and a third, almost all of a paragraph about the Krukelis family’s possible aristocratic roots). It is the beginning of the section on Frank’s life in America where the majority of edits are made. The first cut is the entire section describing Frank’s journey across the Atlantic and his first visit to New York City, a total of seventeen pages starting from page 117. This particular section was heavily criticized for factual errors by Vairas-Račkauskas – who had lived in America from 1907 to 1923 – including such details as the boat arriving at a dock with people waving handkerchiefs, instead of at Castle Garden (or Ellis Island, which opened in 1892), and Krukelis being asked for documents, which were not required at that time.12 It appears that Cvirka thought it easier to simply cut that section rather than rewrite or edit it.
When comparing Vairas-Račkauskas’s review from September 1934 to other edits Cvirka made, it becomes apparent that Cvirka edited the book with this review in mind, if not in hand. They are an amusing collection of misassumptions anyone writing about a foreign land would make. Some of the specific errors pointed out in this review, which were addressed by Cvirka in Edit I, include the incorrect statement that Krukelis could not drink munđainas (moonshine) on arrival. Prohibition had not yet begun, so munđainas is replaced with “alaus” (some beer).13 Krukelis could not dream of being President, because presidential candidates must be born in the United States. This was corrected in six places on four different pages, but curiously, on another page, a reference that Frank would make a good senator was also deleted. Apparently, Cvirka overcorrected and presumed that senators must be restricted in the same way as presidents. Vairas-Račkauskas pointed out, correctly, that blacks in America are descended from slaves; they are not emigrants from Africa. So in a sentence describing how blacks were accustomed to hunting wild animals, Cvirka cleverly replaces the word jaunystëj (in their youth) with praeityje (in the past). Vairas-Račkauskas also pointed out that blacks in America do not sell fruits and vegetables from Africa, since they are all grown in America. This was not addressed, although the sentence does not necessarily imply that the fruits were imported from Africa either, so perhaps Cvirka just shrugged this one off.
In another passage, Cvirka mentions the rattling of abacuses in half-empty offices. Nowadays, a Lithuanian author would not make this mistake, although certainly up until the 1990s they might have. Cvirka changed skaitliukai (abacuses) to rađomos mađinëlës (typewriters). Ah, those small details! There was no two-cent piece in circulation in America at that time. In one place, Cvirka deleted dviejř centř monetŕ (two-cent piece) and replaced it with maţŕ (small); in another he simply deleted du (two). On the next page, he replaced porŕ centř (several cents) with pinigŕ (money); in yet another spot, du centus (two cents) was replaced with monetŕ (a coin).
Bananas and oranges do not grow in Brooklyn, only in Florida and California; bananai, apelsinai (bananas, oranges) was changed to ropës, tabakas (turnips, tobacco). Cvirka made an additional change regarding this on a later page, replacing gali augti bulves, bananai, ir apelsinai (potatoes, bananas, and oranges can grow) with gali augti Franko ţodţiais net apelsinř medţiai (in Frank’s words, even orange trees can grow). We see a curious juxtaposition of familiar Lithuanian crops, such as potatoes and turnips, with what Cvirka would have considered exotic – bananas and oranges – but little real knowledge of what crops actually grow in New York.
In a passage where Frank is plying his trade as an Army recruiter, the prospective soldier complains that, because he is homeless, the police keep bothering him. Certainly that would have been true back then, just as it is today, but Cvirka deleted the recruit’s grievance, vis popieriř jiems reikia (they keep demanding documents), in response to Vairas-Račkauskas pointing out that American citizens are not required to carry papers. The critic had also made a larger point, that the Army did not freelance its recruitment work, but changing this would have taken considerably more rewriting and editing, or maybe the deletion of the entire section on Frank’s recruitment career. Cvirka’s only response was to delete a sentence where Frank, failing in his effort to recruit a young man, is sorry for the wasted dinner and the twenty dollars he would not get.
Cvirka continued to make small concessions to Vairas’s larger objections. The critic’s complaint about Frank Kruk’s overall portrayal was addressed only by occasional cuts to some comments that may have seemed excessive. Vairas objected to the idea that a well-known figure like Krukelis would use terms such as gadem (goddam) and sanavabič (son of a bitch) in public, so these were deleted on pages 191, 320, and 356. His objection that the crooked real estate deals Kruk was involved in don’t actually happen in America wasn’t addressed at all, but then again, they actually do, don’t they?
It appears that Cvirka responded to the specific small factual errors pointed out by Vairas, but failed to make the effort to do the in-depth editing required to correct larger objections. Kostas Korsakas’s review, for example, aimed at criticizing the larger picture, but none of these broader criticisms were addressed. Like Vairas, Antanas Tulys also remarked on a number of inaccuracies concerning the voyage and the geography of New York. In addition, he mentioned several other minor factual errors, such as details in Cvirka’s description of horse races, but Cvirka deleted only one of these, a remark about what is left of Zorka when he is burned alive; Korsakas had also mentioned this in his January review.14
Tulys’s review was first published in March of 1935 in the newspaper Naujienos and republished in the journal Akademikas in April of that year.15 Cvirka’s stinging response was published in October, so all of this presumably occurred when the edits were being made. Is it possible Cvirka was so insulted by Tulys’s review that he intentionally did not incorporate his criticisms in this edit? The alternative explanation is that Cvirka had not seen Tulys’s review at the time he did his editing, which would allow dating Edit I to sometime before March 1935.
Almost all of the other edits consist of cuts. It is clear that Cvirka’s attempt at editing was a fairly superficial one, most of it consisting of responses to specific factual errors pointed out by some of his critics, along with some reductions of wordiness. He avoided any significant rewriting of sections that had larger problems and, in the case mentioned above, cut an entire seventeen-page section to avoid having to fix it.
There does not seem to have been any tradition of editor as collaborator in Lithuania at that time (and still does not appear to be), as there was in America. For example, Harper Lee reported spending over two years rewriting her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird at the instruction of her editor. Another famous example was Thomas Wolfe’s editor, who cut 60,000 words out of Look Homeward, Angel. In Lithuania’s history, unfortunately, editing was more often associated with censorship than with willing partnership.
We must also remember that Cvirka came from a poor farming family and was desperately trying to make a living from his writing. Hence, he wrote a great deal – his bibliography shows some 1,300 items (including three major novels) written between 1924 and his death in 1947, either published under his name or one of his known pseudonyms, or attributed to him.16 Reading the published letters written after he was named head of the Lithuanian Writers Union, it appears his time was often spent attending to numerous everyday concerns in that capacity, from making sure gasoline was available to obtaining transportation, to attending meetings, to making arrangements for translations and publications. Given the pressure he was under, first as a writer to produce texts to earn a living, and later as a bureaucrat, it is obvious that finding the time to rewrite or revise a work would have been difficult.
The other factor we must keep in mind is that Cvirka, even as young as he was, already had quite a bit of experience working as a journalist – some six years. A habit of working speedily, without too much regard for errors, may have already become ingrained (keep in mind this book was written when the Hearst newspaper empire was at its peak), and at a time when text was set in metal type, the simpler the edit, the less the expense. All these pressures may have contributed to his negligence on this score.
Cvirka did, however, find the time to begin another revision, despite the bureaucratic demands of his job. This revision, Edit II, although interrupted by Cvirka’s untimely death in early 1947, was originally done in preparation for a Russian translation. Edited by Venclova, it was considered the official version, and its edits were included in all subsequent editions, even though the Latvian edits (Edit I) were discovered in Riga in 1955.17 Edit II is also incomplete; Cvirka got only as far as page 115. The editing here is more thorough and careful than the edits in Edit I, but again, the vast majority of the editing is merely deletion. However, even the cutting is more careful, frequently consisting of individual words or clauses rather than entire sentences or paragraphs (with two notable exceptions discussed below). In a number of places, he revised word choices and made small changes in wording to accommodate cuts.
Venclova’s afterword to the 1948 edition mentions that minor changes were made in order to bring the work up to copyediting standards.18 For example, the breaking of speech into separate paragraphs is done throughout the book, and the name of God (Dievas) is lowercased throughout. I will have more to say on the further copyediting of the book. This edition also addressed a very common criticism about Cvirka’s Lithuanian-American jargon – inscrutable to Lithuanian readers – by including a glossary of these words compiled by his critic Vairas-Račkauskas, who ended up serving the next twenty years as director of the Cvirka Memorial Museum. The glossary was included in all subsequent editions.
Once again, there are some edits that reflect published criticisms. For example, Cvirka deletes a sentence on page 44 referring to Đeđiapűdis not being particularly fat to avoid inconsistency with later descriptions, an inconsistency mentioned by Korsakas, but curiously not addressed in Edit I.19 He also deletes a section describing how Pranas had swallowed the teacher’s watch, something that even Venclova, whose review was very positive overall, admitted did not “sound entirely true.”20 However, a number of the cuts cannot be characterized as anything other than what would now be known as self-censorship. But Judelevičius, in his 1958 monograph on Cvirka, described these edits otherwise:
Venclova’s 1948 afterword also praised Cvirka’s edits.
According to Herman Ermolaev, the period from 1946 to 1953 was the peak of Soviet censorship, and Cvirka was a man of the regime, so perhaps we should not be surprised.22 Among the cuts I have examined, the types of self-censorship Cvirka employed here fell into several different categories, which include: (1) vulgarisms, (2) excessive religiosity or belief in the supernatural, and (3) attitudes towards minorities. However, the largest number of these types of cuts has to do with Lithuania’s history as a province of Russia.
It is interesting to note that, although some of the earlier critics, Korsakas in particular, had objected to the grosser humor, these cuts were not made in Edit I. On the other hand, Soviet standards definitely frowned upon excessively naturalistic details.23 And in Edit II we find, for example, that Cvirka altered a clause referring to a bartered horse suddenly letting loose its bowels to the horse coughing, removed a clause describing Zidorius coming out from under the table rear-end first and the adjective susmirdćs (stinky) applied to the suitor, and cut a half-page description of Zidorius waiting to observe Đeđiapűdis having a bowel movement. The section where Zidorius and Elzë wait for the pig to eliminate the money it had eaten was also cut, resulting in a somewhat sudden transition to the decision to butcher the pig.
According to Ermolaev, in the postwar period, Stalin changed his attitude towards religion, realizing that it could in fact be used to promote his policies.24 This did not entirely eliminate the negative Soviet stance against religion, but it did tone it down. This shift is reflected in Cvirka’s cuts: there were comments or descriptions that were removed, but certainly not all of them. The removal of superstitious peasant beliefs may fall into this category, or it may reflect the regime’s desire to improve the overall portrait of peasant life. Neither superstition nor religious beliefs were objected to in any of the independent critical reviews of the 1934 edition, leading to the conclusion that these edits were made to bring the writing into line with the standards of the time. So, for example, Zidorius’s advice to his son, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain” was deleted; half a page about haunted places in the village was cut; and in a description of the village biddies visiting the Krukelis carriage to see the spot where Archbishop Valančius had sat, several changes were made to tone down the religiosity; for one, Cvirka deleted dvasiđko vieđpatavimo (of spiritual rule) in front of lazda (staff).
Although Soviet censorship on the subject of nationalities changed as time went on, before the late 1940s there was a strong movement against anti-Semitism. Conversely, the Cossacks were under a cloud, resulting in a thorough editing of Sholokhov’s The Quiet Don.25 We find this category among Cvirka’s cuts, too. A positive reference to a horse coming from the Caucasus and a mention that such horses marched in the Czar’s parades were deleted; the sentence, “Who knows, the Jews, will all of them go to hell?” was cut; and speculation that Jews were responsible for the strange incident with the pig was cut as part of an entire paragraph full of superstitious beliefs.
But by far the largest number of cuts has to do with political considerations. Lithuania had a long history of remembering its former glory as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, rather than as a province of Russia. Although there was nothing overtly anti-Russian in the original work, Cvirka drew an accurate portrait of peasant life in Lithuania at the turn of the century, and this included an awareness of the Russians as masters, whose language was that taught in schools, and as the bureaucrats in charge. The Czar, for example, was consistently referred to as ciecorius (the Emperor). Obviously, comments like these were not appropriate for a Russian translation or, for that matter, in a Lithuanian edition printed under Soviet rule. In a reference to Russia’s war with Japan, the text is edited to read that Sweden wanted to start the war, instead of Russia. The sentence, “Apparently, they say, the Emperor got terribly angry with someone there while he was playing cards,” was deleted, as was a comment about Pranas playing with a coin with the “Emperor’s” head on it.
A number of cuts were made that referred to the educational system of the time, which was under the control of the Russians after the ban on teaching Lithuanian. The cut of Pranas’s failure at reciting “the endless makeup of Czar Nikalojus’s family,” confusing a name from the royal family with the name of the town tanner, was part of several excised sections that poked fun at what Pranas had learned in school.
Cvirka’s jokes at the expense of imperial bureaucracy fell prey to his later cuts as well. For example, in the sentence, “They would proudly transport the priests doing their Christmas visits and the doctors, who were as much of a rarity in the villages those days as sobriety among today’s officials,” everything after “Christmas visits” was taken out. A hilarious episode consisting of a longwinded letter the local sheriff wrote to the governor of the Kaunas area, reporting on the incident with the pig and demanding reinforcements for what he saw as foment against the empire, was also, alas, cut out.
Interestingly, Venclova states, in his afterword to the 1948 edition, that Cvirka had also cut an entire section, from page 102 to 115, that deals with Pranas’s actions after his father’s death, but that they had decided to leave it in “because without it, the reason for Pranas to run away to America would be unclear.”26 Cvirka must have made this cut merely to shorten the work, but given Venclova’s restoration of the section, it clearly contained nothing the Soviets would have found objectionable. Venclova states further that, “the editors did not feel they had the right to make any other changes,” other than punctuation and spelling,27 revealing the high regard Cvirka was held in at that time. No new edition of Frank Kruk has been printed in Lithuania since independence was regained in 1991, perhaps reflecting the ongoing discussion of whether Cvirka’s talents as an artist outweigh his political actions.
Despite Cvirka’s claim in his letter to Sakavičius that his “numerous” edits for the Latvian translation, Edit I, “shortened, enlivened, and made [the book] more dynamic,”28 the editing we have hard evidence for was, in fact, rather minor, and certainly did not do much to address the work’s lack of focus or unevenness of tone. It appears Cvirka mostly concentrated on fixing small inaccuracies in his text pointed out by American critics where he could do so easily, along with a few large deletions. However, my examination of the details of Edit II, made by comparing the original 1934 edition with later editions, reveal that in this case, a number of changes were obviously done to conform to Soviet principles and to avoid offending Russian sensibilities. The second set of edits was more careful and thoughtful, but obviously done with his Russian friends in mind.
The translator is left with a number of choices in approaching Cvirka’s text. In most cases, one would assume that the author’s last version is the obvious choice, the version that most closely reflects the final authorial intention, even if this concept has been so roundly trounced by Jerome McGann. So one choice would be to translate this version, the one most Lithuanians are familiar with, even if it is somewhat bowdlerized. Another would be to use the edits we know Cvirka did for the Latvian translation, which were never reflected in any published copy. Yet another would be to translate the original 1934 version. This would have the distinct advantage of reflecting a historical snapshot of Cvirka’s vision of Lithuanians in America. A fourth choice, probably the most satisfactory if one wanted to create a work that would be more commercially viable here in the United States, would be to produce yet another version, one that selectively combines the edits from both of Cvirka’s attempts and uses his example to finish the editing he was never able to complete. Since Cvirka may have actually approved or even initiated its edits, the published Latvian translation might prove a good guide for this, but the exact differences between that translation and the original Lithuanian edition and the source of its textual variations await further textual analysis.
As tempted as I might be to surgically correct this “humpbacked” child, I find myself seeing a selective combination of versions as an unsatisfactory choice. The 1948 edition, or any of the subsequent editions, is obviously tainted by the corrections made to conform to Soviet censorship. Using the changes made in Cvirka’s hand in response to factual errors, Edit I is a viable choice, but as the saying goes, “the apple never falls far from the tree,” and even if this book be crooked and hunchbacked, it still provides us with a remarkable snapshot of America’s image in the world of the 1930s as seen by a young man who was to come to such an ambiguous end. And, most importantly, errors and all, it still makes us laugh.
version of this paper was presented at the 2012 meeting of the
for Advancement of Baltic Studies. The research and translation was
by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
GRANNY ANASTAZIJA (cut in Edit 1)
I must caution you once again, before starting on a long journey with my dear reader, that this story wasn’t invented by me, nor by my granny Anastazija, who had a well-honed tongue, and, as you already know, used to serve up the latest news telegraphically in the village of Kruopiai, the historical spot of the undertaker Frank Kruk’s birth and youth. The dickens only knows where she got this talent from: sometimes she’d do a dandy job of predicting. The organist’s wife wasn’t even thinking of giving birth yet, and Granny said it’ll be twins, and – wonder of wonders! – twins were born: one took after the priest, the other after the judge. She had a good nose, too – during Lent she’d go outside, sniff the air with one nostril (I must interject that Anastazija’s right nostril hadn’t worked in many years), and she knew which nonbeliever or soul beset by the devil was eating bacon. In church she was the greatest singer – the organist couldn’t out shout her with his melodies. When the late pastor bought some new bellows for the organ, he thought that now the pipes would out shout Anastazija, but what do you know! Angel of God or Let us Fall to Our Knees were her favorite hymns. When she sang at home, she’d wake everyone up, while if the sows and piglets heard her in the morning, they used to start in grunting in all sorts of voices, for they knew Anastazija knew how to make tasty slops. The pastor couldn’t even manage to get out to the churchyard before he immediately found out from our Anastazija who ate bacon on Friday, who spoke against the pastor, and that the carpenter Bukđva called the gendarme a guardian angel and, because of that, committed a mortal sin. Unfortunately, Anastazija kicked the bucket on the third Thursday after Whitsunday, simply gave up her soul into God’s hands; these days, she would have secured respect and a good spot.
But why drag that little woman, not worth these few words, out of her grave?
My hand has tired; my pen doesn’t run
so nimbly. The
sentences lie in dark shadows on the white pages. It’s time for
me to begin my promised story about the undertaker. However,
in the beginning you’ll see neither an undertaker nor Brooklyn,
nor will you be frightened by coffins and funerals. And
the kings who intrigued you in the earlier pages of this book,
the women, the executives and critics, the Grand Dukes and
the marvelous country full of scents, blossoms, rain, love, and
thunder, developing bands of nine-colored rainbows – that’s
not what I’m rushing to sing about. We’ll start our story, or
novel, in a prewar farm plot, with Lithuanian pigs.
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Rađtai, septyni tomai,
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