LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2016 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 62, No.3 - Fall 2016
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius
Long Ago and Far Away - Revisiting Big Stories from Small Countries
This talk was given at a symposium called “Small Cultures in a Big World” in September of 2013 at Tartu College, in Toronto, hosted by the Estonian Studies Centre. In it, Canadian novelist, Antanas Sileika, addresses the problems, opportunities and technical difficulties of writing fiction based on Baltic history aimed at publication in North America. Two years later he gave another talk about books that have recently appeared and dealt with Baltic issues at Santara conference in Alanta held in 2015 and updated a year later.
Part I: Baltic Stories in a Global Context
Before I begin speaking of Baltic fiction in a global context, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. I am a Canadianborn writer of Lithuanian heritage. In my youth, I had no intention of writing on Lithuanian themes because I was an ardent anglophile and loved the English language very dearly. I felt I belonged in the world of the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Somerset Maugham. As a teenager, I could spend summer afternoons in the basement of my parents’ house, listening to the rhythms of Dylan Thomas’s poetry rolling out from the turntable of the record player. I had internalized my membership in the British Commonwealth, that relic of the British Empire.
Although I grew up and left behind these childish enthusiasms for all things British, I have kept a love of the English language so intense that certain poems can still force me to hide my face for the emotion it shows. Yet all of my fiction writing is now set in Lithuania, and often it has to do with Lithuanians going out beyond their borders and sometimes returning. My instrument is the English language, but my melody is Lithuania.
Since I am the child of Lithuanian immigrants, it takes
no deep psychological insight to understand my subject
matter and its persistent exploration of dividedness. But unlike my
parents' generation, which was traumatized by the war and its result, I
am paradoxically enriched by this tragic event and its aftermath.
First, i have the gift of a form of exile, a certain distance from the material that lies in Lithuania; i am an exile not only of place, but of time as well because my settings are mostly in the past. Exile has proven useful to some writers, but we haven't often thought of the second generation as possessing a sense of exile.
Second, because I grew up in the postwar era, I suffered a form of invisibility, as all people of Baltic origin did at a time when our countries did not exist on a world map. This sense of invisibility compelled me to become a writer in order to become visible, in order to exist in some fashion. All aspiring writers long to see their names in print, but this need of mine verged on the desperate because it did more than affirm my existence - it seemed to make it possible in the first place.
Finally, i have the good fortune to have the ability to read and speak (although not write) an intermediate level of Lithuanian. i therefore have a reasonable facility in the Lithuanian language, enough to open a window in the culture and history of Lithuania, and as a result, i have been delighted to find a rich vein of material in Lithuanian oral stories and books, often in self-published memoirs and obscure biographies.
Lithuanian stories are what i write, but who reads them? i live and work in a Canadian literary milieu, and that is my audience. i am read in translation in Lithuania, but i write for a Canadian audience, and to a much lesser degree, an American audience. One of my books was even translated into Chinese and is now being translated into italian, so something about the Lithuanian story reaches out beyond its borders.
stories of events in the Baltics suffer from certain impediments yet
also enjoy certain opportunities in a global context, by which we
really mean the English-speaking world. Which brings me to the heart of
this talk. What does it mean to write of the Baltics in Canada, or any
But just before we discuss that, let's ask ourselves the question, "Why do we want people to know our story?"
if the answer is that we suffered in a particular way and the world should know, we should be aware that a form of suffering Olympics seems to exist, and if our suffering is to be measured, some of the judges will not be sympathetic. To paraphrase this idea, just because you want someone to hear you doesn't mean that anyone has to listen unless you have something to offer.
I would say the plea, "Please listen to me!" is a bad one. it reeks of neediness and people flee from neediness. On the contrary, if you say, "Have I got a story for you!" then people will want to hear what you have to say.
I think the Baltic stories do have something to offer, and of course, everyone feels validated by being known. The invisibility that I suffered from as a postwar child remains true of the cultures of the Baltics today. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are on the map, but not in the consciousness of the english-speaking world. so let's move on to the impediments to the telling of Baltic stories.
First, the geography and history of the Baltic States are terra incognita in North America. I would say that most Canadians and Americans know as much about the Baltics as they do about Kazakhstan, unless, of course, their neighbours happen to be Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian. By the way, when speaking of ignorance, let's not exclude our own. It might be worth asking ourselves how much we know about Belarus, the Baltics' near neighbour, and to ask ourselves if we shouldn't know a little more.
the place is obscure, as are many other places. Related to obscurity is
the lack of interest in the Baltics. Not only are we pretty much
unknown, but nobody cares that we are unknown. In a way, we are known
unknowns, to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld.
Second, those who do know about us might not like us very much. If I look on Amazon.com for books about Lithuania, for example, I find that most are about the Holocaust. Just as the Baltics feel wary at best about their Russian near neighbours, Jews do not, for the most part, remember the Baltics with any fondness. Quite the opposite.
Indeed, there is one theory raised by some Jewish thinkers which says the attempt by the Baltics to highlight their suffering under the soviets, a major theme for the Baltics, is a mask to cover their crimes under the Nazis. I don't want to get sidetracked by this thread. Anne Applebaum, the noted historian of Eastern Europe has said to me at a book signing that this position is marginal anyway. But my point remains that not all of our audience will be predisposed to like us in any way.
A third impediment to Eastern European stories in general is that the place seems strange and remote to the West. This perception usually comes as a shock to Eastern Europeans, who feel a pull of attraction toward the West and some sort of repulsion, to a greater or lesser degree, to the East. Westerners, however, feel no reciprocal warmth toward Eastern Europe. Our quest for Baltic independence was an expression of this attraction to the West, and inclusion in the EU shows a lessening of Western reservations about the East, but not entirely.
The region has a bad reputation. In 1985 there was an academic conference in which Eric Hobsbaum, the noted leftist historian read a paper entitled "On the Backwardness of Eastern Europe", and if you look on Amazon, you will find a book with this title.
general, all of Eastern Europe seems strange to Westerners, mostly
because it is unknown. But people do have their opinions. A
poker-playing friend of mine said his wife would never set foot in
Eastern Europe. Neither he nor she explained why, but the subtext was
that the places are somehow uncivilized.
At worst, we get comic stereotypes, like Borat, or darker stereotypes, like the dystopia depicted in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or the character of Hannibal Lecter of Silence of the Lambs. He is a fictional serial killer and cannibal from Lithuania.
Thus we have ignorance, indifference, and stereotypes dominating the view of Eastern Europe, in which the Baltics find themselves.
By the way, no one seems to like the phrase, "Eastern Europe". Poles believe they are in central Europe, and so do the Baltics. Some people even take offense at this term because everyone seems to understand that "East" means bad and "West" means good. I consider this to be an unnecessary sensitivity that continues to promote stereotypes. Eastern Europe, from a western point of view, includes all the nations that were once part of the so-called eastern Bloc and western part of the Soviet Union.
So when it comes to publishing poetry, fiction, or memoirs about Eastern Europe, there are certain problems. But where there are impediments, there are also opportunities.
First, I have
found the stories that come out of Lithuania to be extremely dramatic,
especially for what people repeatedly went through there in the middle
of the twentieth century. With the arrival of each new occupier, the
Baltics might well have quoted Dorothy Parker to ask, "What fresh hell
is this?" The Baltics lie inside what historian Timothy Snyder's calls
The Bloodlands, a place where life became nasty, brutish, and short. In
this place of few good choices, people had to act under extreme
pressure and thus their stories are intense.
Second, Eastern Europe has more than once been an interesting place to be from. Again and again we meet historical characters who come out of the East and face the West to enrich it or be tempered by it.
For example - Petras Rimsa was a sculptor who left Lithuania, studied with Rodin in Paris, and returned to become locally famous. On the other hand, Jacques Lipchitz left Lithuania at about the same time, befriended Picasso, and went on to become a world-famous sculptor. Yet curiously, both of them were shy when they first had to sketch nude models. A fellow-student of Rimsa, when asked if he had ever seen a naked woman before, admitted that he had, once, by accident, but then turned away in modesty and embarrassment. Interestingly, people like Lipchitz and Chaim Soutine, both from Lithuania, and Constantin Brancusi from Romania, ushered in an era of nonfigurative sculpture, bringing their folkloric native traditions to Paris, and transforming them into something modern. In other words, the experience of Eastern Europe enriched the culture of the West.
Incidentally, the lives of the two sculptors of Lithuanian origin excited my interest and gave birth to a novel I called Woman in Bronze.
Another unusual person to consider, one who could only have come from a place like the Baltics, is the Lithuanian postwar children's writer, Kostas Kubilinskas. This man was the Dr. Seuss of postwar Lithuania, the man whose poems can be recited by a whole generation of readers who remember them fondly as part of the landscape of their childhood.
what a complicated, even twisted man! He had written satires of Stalin
during the first Soviet occupation and when the Soviets came back, they
held him to account for doing so. Yet he wanted to be a poet more than
anything else. He considered himself to be above morality, and the
needs of literature to be above morality as well. In order to prove
himself reliable to the regime, he infiltrated the postwar partisans,
shot one of them himself, and revealed another bunker where four more
men were killed. And then he went on to write the Lithuanian equivalent
of "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back."
Kostas Kubilinskas was like a character out of Czeslaw Milosz's Captive Mind. I could not have imagined such as man, one whose life was an example of the terrible compromises people make to get what they want.
I find my Lithuanian subject matter to be a gift, as I have said, but a gift to literature, not necessarily to Lithuania itself, by which I mean that I do not diminish the suffering of people in Lithuania by considering their stories a gift to me.
I write of Lithuanian subject matter not necessarily to tell the sad story of Lithuania. Every country has a sad story of some kind. In my last three novels I have written of Lithuania because it is a dramatic place where the actions of men and women in impossible situations help to illuminate the human condition, and not just the condition of Lithuania or the Baltics.
me insist on this. Neither do I write historical stories; I write
forever stories, ones that apply to men and women through time. In The
Iliad, Andromache begged Hector not to fight outside the breached walls
of Troy, yet he did so in the knowledge that he would widow his wife
and orphan his child. This ancient agony is the same agony of the
Canadian wife and mother who begs her husband not to volunteer to fight
in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. Similarly, it is the agony of a
mother whose son has gone into the postwar anti-Soviet partisans. Men
have gone to war and women have wept for millennia, and so this
problem, this pain and incomprehension repeat across time in different
places, including the Baltics.
Another opportunity in stories from the Baltic lies in their very remoteness. Like it or not, those places are somewhat exotic to North Americans. That is precisely why the fictional mass murderer, Hannibal Lecter, comes from there. The Baltics are not exactly Transylvania yet, but they are some version of it. The strategy for a writer here, I believe, is to embrace the exoticism of the place. There is no need to demonstrate that the Baltic peoples are just like the inhabitants of Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. What's different about the place is what's interesting.
For example, in some of my reading of the history of this place, I discovered that bridges were rare in czarist Lithuania because they were expensive to build. What bridges there were functioned as funnels, gathering people from far and wide into a single, narrow route. Where there are travellers, there are thieves, who often hid under bridges, waiting for unsuspecting passersby. Thus was born the myth of the troll. In order to discourage thieves, Catholic Lithuanians would carve large wooden religious figures and place them in glassed boxes to overlook the bridges. The idea was that the saint or Christ figure would protect the travellers, or, failing that, shame the thieves into withdrawing. But thieves, it turns out, are practical and not easily frightened. In some cases, they would throw the religious statues out of their miniature houses and get in there themselves to stay out of the rain.
This behaviour is profoundly funny to me, and profoundly human. I could never have imagined such behaviour if not for access to Lithuanian source material.
Eastern Europe is becoming far less obscure as far as historical
reevaluation goes. Many Western historians have been writing about the
place in the last two decades. among the books on this place are Norman
Davies's Europe, the late Tony Judt's Postwar, Anne Applebaum's Iron
Curtain, Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands, and Marci Shore's Taste of Ashes,
to name only a few.
Historians lead the way, and the novelists and nonfic-tion writers follow.
Fifth, while memoirs by Baltic persons have always been written, the relatively new genre of life stories makes these books easier to publish and their acceptance more widespread. Life stories are the stories of ordinary people and what they went through. Life stories are different from biographies in that the subject is usually not famous and the shape of the life is recounted in less literary fashion. The market for life stories is small and mostly academic, but I am encouraged by the appearance of more and more of these books, such as the work of Irena Praitis of California State University who wrote the story of her mother, One Woman's Life.
Sixth, while the Baltics are not very well known, the Nazi and Soviet regimes certainly are, and interest in these regimes remains lively. The Baltics lay between the hammer and the anvil, and people continue to want to read about the place where the sparks flew most hotly.
Finally, the openness to multiculturalism that began several decades ago has become so commonplace now that stories of faraway places are less unusual than they used to be, so much so that the success of the writers of former British colonies has been called "The Empire Strikes Back".
Moral and Technical Issues
much for the impediments and the opportunities of Baltic subject
matter. Writing stories set in the Baltics or with Baltic themes
presents some technical and at least one moral issue as well.
The moral issue deals with the Holocaust. Any North American fiction set in the Baltics in the last century must address the Holocaust in some way. One need not write about the Holocaust - others have done that and continue to do it, but one cannot overlook it. Otherwise, the accusations that some are whitewashing Baltic history will be justified. My last novel, Underground, had to do with the anti-soviet underground resistance in the postwar era. It was not about the Holocaust, but it acknowledged the shadow of the Holocaust. At least one of my Canadian colleagues took issue with me, saying that I did not say enough on the subject. Others accused me of unnecessarily introducing the Holocaust. In the end, some were unhappy with what I did, but I cannot imagine that any story set in the Baltics can exist without the shadow of the Holocaust cast both backward, before the event, and afterward, after the event.
The technical issue about writing about the Baltics has to do with writing historical fiction in general. As a writer, I am forbidden to bore my readers, and so I must address the history and geography of Lithuania in such as a way as not to seem like a lecturer droning along in front of a class of bored students. Unlike students who must attend lectures, readers will abandon your book in the flick of the wrist. American writer, Elmore Leonard, famously said that to write a good book, you have to leave out the boring parts.
But how do you do that?
In my last two books, I used different strategies.
The most recent strategy, in Underground, was to use compression and comparison. I did address the history of Lithuania as briefly as possible, and then attempted to make it interesting by comparing its difference with that of the West.
technique I used in Woman in Bronze was to turn the place into a kind
of fairy tale land. I thought at the time that if Lithuania was
perceived as the land of Baron Munchausen, then I would embrace this
characterization and push it forward.
In conclusion, let me say that the stories found in the Baltics or inspired by them are well worth telling because they illuminate the human condition. Let's tell those stories and tell them in a compelling fashion, and if the aesthetic strategies I have laid out based on my own work don't find favour, then I invite creators to explore new ways of adapting their aesthetics to capture the imagination of the world.
Part II: From Invisibility to Visibility
in postwar North America, I found Eastern Europe and the Baltics to be
practically invisible in popular space that included history and
literature. Hardly anyone knew about them and fewer cared. Much of my
life has been searching for traces of the Baltics in writing in
English, as if for acknowledgement of their existence, and by
extension, of my own.
This ignorance fell away for a couple of years during the Baltics' quest for independence and the collapse of the Soviet union, when Lithuania was in the news as much as any country in Western Europe. But this existence in the popular mind diminished practically to invisibility soon after.
1988, Hannibal Lecter, the evil central character in The Silence of the
Lambs was depicted as a Lithuanian traumatized by the cannibalism of
his daughter by foreign soldiers who fought for the Nazis. Shortly
after, in 1991 Jonathan Franzen in his novel, The Corrections, depicted
Lithuania as post-soviet Dystopia, a place where everything was
for sale and the rule of law was very weak.
So far, so bad for a picture of Lithuania and the Baltics in the popular imagination.
Around that time, many less well-known books came out on the subject of the Holocaust in Lithuania, often depicting Lithuanians as enthusiastic supporters and perpetrators of the massacres. Most of these Jewish memoirs were read by people interested in the Holocaust, a subgroup of the reading public. Notwithstanding the smallness of this group, it can generally be said that after a moment of glory in the late eighties and early nineties, Lithuania and the Baltics were not known, and when they were, the picture was dark indeed.
Baltic emigres did not write and publish widely enough in English to make an impression on the Western popular mind, if such a thing can even be said to exist. However, many, many Jews emigrated from the Baltics and Poland and Lithuania in particular at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some to south Africa, from which their children and grandchildren often emigrated to North America. Some of their heirs did go on to write and publish.
When it comes to history, Eastern Europe has become more illuminated as a series of historians from Norman Da-vies, to Timothy Snyder, Anne Applebaum, the late Tony Judt and others began to take an interest in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
But not many people read history
first really international English language book to be a big success
was Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Grey, worldwide bestseller about
the Lithuanians in the gulag. However, the tremendous success of this
novel was limited in a way because it was categorized in bookstores as
a young adult book, and although Lithuanians of all ages read it,
generally speaking, adults do not read books in the category of young
adult. Thus the impact of this novel was unfortunately limited in what
I will call the popular Western consciousness. Perhaps that
consciousness will expand when the film version of the novel comes out.
Her next book, Salt to the Sea, deals with the tragedy of East Prussia
and has already garnered excellent reviews. It is a plot-driven
page-turner which should probably be made into a film as well.
More and more books with Lithuania settings are beginning to appear, and I wanted to point out some of them.
The first is a book called Epistolophilia, a biography written by Julija Sukys. This book was published in the uSA by Northwestern university Press, an academic press which has recently begun to make a strong impression with its nonfiction line. Julija Sukys is an academic, born in Toronto, who now teaches at the university of Missouri.
Epistolophilia tells the story though letters of Ona Simaite, a Lithuanian librarian who smuggled Jewish children and books and documents out of the Vilnius ghetto. She was discovered by the Nazis, tortured, and imprisoned in Dachau but survived the war. she lived primarily in France although for some years in Israel too, a place she could not bear because she found the climate too hot.
This is a remarkable book about a remarkable person: eccentric, moral, uncompromising. The book went on to win a Jewish book award in Canada and to be long-listed for two other nonfiction awards. It will be coming out in Lithuanian translation in 2016.
Julija Sukys also will be bringing out a book next year in English about her grandmother, who was deported to Siberia. Sukys is an important writer of Lithuanian subject matter in English, someone to keep an eye on because she is serious and talented and we can expect much from her in the future.
Next is a novel by Kenneth Bonert, a Canadian with South African and Lithuanian Jewish roots. His novel, The Lion Seeker, came out in 2014 and won the Jewish book award that year and was nominated for one of Canada's most important literary prizes.
The novel is a vast and sweeping bildungsroman of a boy who grows up in South Africa before and after the Second World War. It is a truly voluminous novel featuring an uneasy young man learning about life as he drifts from auto body repair to travelling across the countryside as a salesman.
But much of his life is defined in relation to his parents, especially his mother, who had an ugly wound on her face that was so bad, she kept her face covered as much as she could until she had an operation to give her some semblance of normality.
The mother has been traumatized, and we find out eventually she was maimed in a pogrom in Rokiđkis in 1906 during which the Lithuanians attacked the Jews, killed one, and disfigured the woman by cutting her face. This pogrom, incidentally, is historically true. If this attack is the opening bookend of the novel, the closing bookend is even more terrible, because it occurs in the Lietukis garage massacre of Jews in Kaunas in 1941.
The mother, in short, was maimed by history, and so the protagonist lives endlessly in the shadow of the terrible crimes visited upon the Jews by Lithuanians.
A new book of nonfiction has just appeared this year in New York by the American poet, Rita Gabis. She comes across in the memoir as an extremely sensitive person whose late father was Jewish and whose mother is Lithuanian. Thus she was torn between two families which did not mix comfortably at all.
her Jewish side, she has fond memories of her late father, a real
academic and thinker who spent most of his life in books. Her paternal
grandmother, however, was a powerful and sometimes angry force. Once,
when Rita was a young teenager, her grandmother saw her on the street
wearing a cross on a chain around her neck, just like the other girls
that Rita hung out with. Rita saw the cross as a form of jewelry. The
furious paternal grandmother stopped her car to rip the chain from her
neck. On the other side, however, her Lithuanian family of aunts and
uncles encouraged her not to identify with her father's Jewish people,
to be Lithuanian instead.
At the centre of this memoir lies the character of her Lithuanian Grandfather, Senelis, whom she remembers somewhat fondly, and her grandmother who was sent to Siberia. What did her grandfather do during the war? He was head of Saugumas, which is to say the security police, in the town of Svencionys under the Nazis in a time when many Jews were shot.
So Gabis's central question is - was her grandfather a war criminal, or did he save some Jews and protect them?
This memoir is very, very well informed. The research Gabis did is thorough. She went to book talks given by Ruta Sepetys and remembers Đepetys being called "The Lithuanian Anne Frank". At a Jewish dinner party in New York, however, someone says to her that all Lithuanians are fascists, a view that some people hold to this day.
This memoir is agonizing to read and it probes very deeply into the massacre both of Jews and Poles in Svencio-nys. And it is very subtle, very thorough. It tries to see everything through as many lenses as possible while searching for the truth. It is also very understanding of the suffering of Jews, Poles, and Lithuanians during the war.
All of the books mentioned so far have made or will make some impact on the "popular view" of Lithuania and the Baltics, but the next two books I want to talk about are bestsellers, and thus have much bigger audiences.
The first is by the British writer, Samantha Harvey, called Dear Thief. It is an intensely romantic story about a love triangle. A young woman's friend, the thief of the novel, steals away the narrator's husband. The novel is a long letter to the thief, a study of their relationship, their friendship, and the betrayal.
The thief of the novel is a Lithuanian woman. Her name is Nina, but she is called Butterfly, perhaps because she flies in and out of the narrator's life mysteriously. Butterfly is a profoundly bohemian person, a photographer, but also a person deeply committed to Lithuania, as is her brother and a third Lithuanian in the novel, an old man in a nursing home.
The glimpses we see of Lithuania in the novel are of a country seeking freedom, fighting for liberty, and suffering under the Soviets.
Some of the Lithuanian details are ahistorical, because Butterfly and her brother seem to steal into and out of Lithuania very easily during the Soviet period. Her brother even goes to Lithuania to work as a scientist during the Soviet period, and as far as I recall from that time, there were not many Lithuanian emigres who worked and lived in Lithuania.
Butterfly is a mysterious figure in the novel, and so is Lithuania.
an interview with the author, Harvey said she became fascinated by
Lithuania, and visited it. She said she identified Lithuania as a place
where eco-nationalism developed. She said it was a place where the
people were nationalists and fought for freedom because of their love
of nature, as exemplified in the sand dunes of Nida as well as the
forests of Lithuania. The character of Butterfly in this novel has a
powerful, mystical life force associated with Lithuania itself.
The book was reviewed in the New Yorker, a very important place that will make the writer widely read. Indeed, some of my friends wrote to me to ask if Harvey is Lithuanian because she seemed to know so much about it.
I just want to note that this is a mythical Lithuania being represented in the novel. Just as France might be depicted as the home of joie de vivre, and Spain the home of blood sport, so Lithuania is depicted here as a place of mystical, ecological life force. We are seeing not historical Lithuania, or contemporary Lithuania, but a mythical Lithuania depicted in a fresh way.
Next is a novel not in English, but recently translated into English from the Finnish.
It is called When the Doves Disappeared, and it is written by Sofi Oksanen, whose father is Finnish and whose mother is Estonian. Sofi Oksanen is a hip young writer, very popular, and some people say she is going to be the next Stieg Larsson, the latest American best-selling Nordic writer.
Oksanen's novel tells the story of three people during the German and Soviet occupations of Estonia.
Edgar is a collaborator with whomever is in power. He was trained in Finland to fight the Soviets, but when the Germans arrive, he becomes a collaborator with them. Later, he hides his past and works for the Soviets. His cousin, Roland, is a more determined resister, one who becomes a partisan and continues to fight the Soviets.
Judit is Edgar's wife. She suffers because Edgar is not interested in her sexually and we assume he is a closet homosexual. She goes on to have an affair with a German officer, only to be reunited unhappily with her husband after the Soviets return.
This is a
fantastically popular writer, translated into many languages and
winning prizes all over the world. Her story of the Estonian resistance
to the Soviets has probably done more than any other book to bring out
the narrative of the Baltics and their search for independence.
Another novel that is on the horizon at this writing is American Rufi Thorpe's Dear Fang, With Love: A novel. This is the promising young American's second novel, presumably inspired by her stay in Vilnius some years ago as a student in the Summer Literary Seminars run there by Mikhail Iossel of Concordia University. The novel will tell the story of a psychologically wounded young woman who goes to Vilnius with her estranged father. The preliminary reviews of this novel have been raves.
The books I have just mentioned above are intended to give an impressionistic view of the Baltics in the popular mind in the West. Of course, not so many people read any more, so until a movie is made of any of these books, those people who are conscious of the Baltics will remain a minority.
The reality of Lithuania and
the Baltics is complicated, of course. There are many layers to any
society, and the books I have mentioned address only some of the
layers. Nevertheless, I hope these snapshots have given some idea of
Lithuania and the Baltics in the popular imagination in the West.