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I am Lina Buividavičiūtė. Born on May 14, 1986, two-weeks overdue, with hip dysplasia, big blue eyes and a proclivity for weeping.
I grew, grew, and grew up into a thirty-one year old woman who still quarrels with the little Lina, and still struggled with her complexes and frustrations. I studied and studied through two years of dentistry school, a BA in Lithuanian philology and advertising, a MA in Lithuanian literature, and a PhD in the general direction of Lithuanian literature. I am a poet, literary scholar, literary critic and a tutor in Lithuanian language and biology.
My poems have been published in most of Lithuania’s cultural periodicals. I have actively taken part in literary readings, book launches, and contests. Next year, I will have my debut in the Druskininkai Poetry Fall Anthology. Such are the general facts, but truthfully, in my work, as in me, you will find mostly desire, death, emptiness, pain and anger. I rage, provoke, question, yearn. Tirelessly, with no respite.
At present, I am best represented by hunger – for experience, people, work, challenges, my own life. I am hungry, very hungry, and I share my hunger with the reader.

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Graphic Novels

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Lina Buividaviciuteby
Lina Buividavičiūtė

 

 

Even relatively recently, there were, from time to time, voices in the discourse of literary criticism sighing hopelessly about the present and future of Lithuanian short fiction. Due to a scarcity of published works, the identity and evolution of the Lithuanian short story has been elusive. Be that as it may, over the last decade, I have kept an eye on certain authors and their output which, in my opinion, boasted great potential. Collections of short stories, published in 2019 and 2020, emphasize newly emerging tendencies and tones in the genre and define more clearly what the contemporary short story is about and how it is written. When reading books and writing this article, what I found most interesting and relevant were the narrative distances—the near-misses and convergences—that separated the worlds of writers such as Daina Opolskaitė and Aidas Jurašius. I will summarize this unravelled panorama at the start of my article: we can see the actualized classical tradition (Daina Opolskaitė, Dienų Piramidės [The Pyramids of Days]) coexisting with “neo-gothic nocturnes” (Vidas Morkūnas, Pakeleivingų Stotys [The Wayfarers’ Stations]); an intertextual, pretentious exploration of the body (Aidas Jurašius Bibliofobija [Bibliophobia]) is juxtaposed with an intellectually witty exploration of the body (Akvilė Kavaliauskaitė, Kūnai [Bodies]). A study into the lives of ordinary people sprinkled with magical realism (Jurga Tumasonytė, Undinės [Mermaids]), stands next to a traditional short story enriched with a strange, dreamlike reality (Monika Baltrušaitytė, Išėję prie upės [We Went to the River]). Regardless, most Lithuanian short fiction is rather structured and, for the most part, chooses to stay within the traditional boundaries of the genre. The realistic world of ordinary people is diluted with dreams, visions, fantasies, and the rare motif of a supra-presence. There is also an alternation between the modern (Opolskaitė) and post-modern (Jurašius) imagination: serious attitudes are interchanged with pastiche, playfulness, and an ironic reconceptualization of meanings. The dominant theme common to even the most diverse of the writers is the attention given to the ordinary person or average Jo, who was given a voice in these stories  and whose experiences, from mundane to extreme, have been explored by the authors. Entrenched in the grimy gutters of life and forgotten, ordinary people are portrayed with a sensitive abstraction of the fundamental essence of their being (Opolskaitė), in the playful realm of magical realism (Tumasonytė), by use of the grotesque and the absurd (Morkūnas), or through pastiche and intertextuality (Jurašius). In this article, I will explore the works that best reflect the diversity of Lithuanian short fiction.

Dienų piramidės (The Pyramids of Days) is Daina Opolskaitė’s second book of novellas, published eighteen years after her debut. Some of the stories had already been released to cultural publications, and one of them, “Grotos” (The Bars), was awarded the Antanas Vaičiulaitis literature award, named after the famous Lithuanian writer. Opolskaitė has also been internationally recognized—in 2019, she was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature.

Dienų piramidės most impressed me with its unhurried, touching, thoughtful, and precise language. Reading her stories, we can see how hard Opolskaitė worked to perfect her craft and to develop her sharp, lively, and clear style. She manages to convey the more subtle, delicate aspects of her characters, creatively cultivates internal and external conflicts, and defines and explores the most relevant, poignant issues. As previously noted, the focus is the reality and struggles of ordinary people and the discord between the real world and inner, authentic experience. The imagery and symbolism (bars and crowns), found both in the titles of the stories and in the stories themselves, add to the magical atmosphere and the overall impact of the texts. Motifs of a supra-presence, dreams, visions, and intuitions are also prevalent. Opolskaitė notes crucial human disconnections and frictions, and depicts internal battles with sensitivity: “There had always been an impenetrable obstacle between them, something stronger than themselves. Like heavy metal bars, never to be broken” (p.22). The author looks into the origins of social roles and phenomena, like that of motherhood, and uncovers a deeper and authentic layer of unexplored meanings. Her shorter works depict a wide range of emotion—loss, love, hatred, empathy—every one of which seems as real and as important as the next. Since the writer exploits universal classical modes, readers can recognize themselves and their own experiences in the situations and problems explored in the stories. Dienų piramidės tells us that the life of the average Joe or Jane hides important stories that deserve to be told.

Pakeleivingų stotys (The Wayfarers’ Stations), a book of short stories by Vidas Morkūnas, has been characterized by literary critic Virginija Cibarauskė as “minimalist nocturnes.” Ever since the release of his first book, Manekeno gimtadienis (The Mannequin’s Birthday, 2011), Morkūnas has been recognized for his fiction. Pakeleivingų stotys, the author’s most recent work, was voted the most creative book of 2019 by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore and was shortlisted for the Lithuanian Book of the Year. In my opinion, Morkūnas’s work deserves to be recognized as a phenomenon. His use of language is both frugal and accurate, without compromising on expressive imagery. He also does not shy away from linguistic variation—from archaic, unusual vocabulary (vėlybieji “late”) to Russian curse words. His writing is multilayered: the superficial simplicity of the narrative is outweighed by a complex subject matter, unique subversions, and an overlap in coding. The external space-time and the internal spheres of the characters breathe abandonment and loss; the situations in which the characters find themselves are grotesque, with a fresh beauty that reveals itself from unexpected angles. I found it to be reminiscent of Meursault in The Stranger by Camus, who, by the end of the novel, opens up to the beauty of an uncaring world. Pakeleivingų stotys shows the reader both the meaninglessness of everyday existence and the difficulty of grasping it, putting it into words, even when in the throes of the grotesque reality: “Vėžys didn’t know what was happening to him. There was no one to explain to him that his absurd idea to sell dead flies had almost revealed the futility of his life; a life like a kaleidoscope—you can turn it around as much as you want, but it will always fall back into the same mosaic” (p.37). In his prose, Morkūnas leaves certain things unsaid, giving the reader an opportunity to employ their own imagination. Here, we find a variety of ordinary people:  humdrum, wistful and cruel, “carrying his mother’s death away in his pocket” (p. 22), raining twenty-seven fatal blows on their wife, stopping to ask for directions, painting jazz but listening to the blues, and reading a book found by accident—this is Pakeleivingų stotys. The imagery of the agrarian past and the Soviet occupation creates a familiar atmosphere and refers to collective trauma with subtlety and nuance, urging the reader to consider Baltic post-colonial discourse. Here, everyone is but a wayfarer—be it at fated or chosen stations.

Undinės (The Mermaids) by Jurga Tumasonytė was also eagerly awaited by both readers and literary critics. It was immediately recognized and won its author the Jurga Ivanauskaitė Prize, named after the cult Lithuanian writer. Tumasonytė is also interested in giving average people a voice and depicting their choices and the directions their lives take. Often, the protagonists of the stories have been battered by life and have gone through marginalizing situations: loss, trauma, and betrayal. The interludes of magical realism are never self-serving; instead, they almost always work to create a deeper meaning. For example, in the story “Muzika jų akyse” (Music in Their Eyes), the mermaids symbolise people’s attempt to classify, in human terms, and control that which is foreign and unknown, that which truly terrifies us. The incorporation of transformed mythical themes (like siren songs) into Tumasonytė’s vivid and populated world serves as a fertilizer for the field of meanings.

In the short story “Taksistė” (The Taxi Driver), the doppelganger motif explores, on the one hand, trauma-induced personal dissociation, and, on the other, the opportunity of and longing for the multitudes of different outcomes of one life. The posthumous wanderings of Mr Bružas hint at a connection to the real world, as banal and transparent as it is. It also alludes to the often all-too-late understanding that life has not been lived to the fullest: “If you think about it, all of Mr Bružas’s life had gone by in wait for something better. […] He had always dreamed of a tall, lean wife with chestnut hair, but instead he started dating a short chubby blonde. They dated until he married her. He'd dreamed of wonderful children, but ended up with only one son, who was now wasting his time with nonsense like shaving his eyebrows” (“Pono Bružo Mirtis” [The Death of Mr Bružas], e-book).

Tumasonytė’s talent lies in her ability to write expressively, with great attention to detail, creating rich and vibrant personalities for her protagonists and revealing the elements of daily life . She creates characters that are familiar to the reader: we have met their doubles in our own lives. The unexpected twists and turns in the plots intrigue the reader and keep them invested in the story until the very last page. The writer builds her work on the best traditions of the novella, but creates hew own, strange world on those foundations. A world that is very much about us, average people.

Kūnai (Bodies) is Akvilė Kavaliauskaitė’s second book. The main concept of the work, the body, acquires a fresh and original tone. The physical form is a stepping stone for narrative purposes; it provides the opportunity to note the passage of time, the fleeting opportunities, and the changing of shapes. Bodies meet and miss each other; they fight inner battles and create art. Through her characters, the author clarifies the meaning of the dual human as a construct of a physical body and the mind/spirit/soul: “‘Do you know what the modern human wastes the most time on?’ A pause. ‘On searching for a balance between the beast—that is, the body—and the human—that is, the intellect. If you veer too far in either direction, you will be misunderstood, outcast, or even mocked.”’ (p. 101)

The book focuses on both internal and external wanderings: from Norway to Italy, from Zarasai to Mallorca, from the usual beginnings and original settings with a twist to extraordinary conclusions. The extensive internal and external geography in Kūnai speaks of the problems of the average person finding themselves in the world, creates an intrigue with unexpected decisions and plot points, and fires up the reader’s imagination. Kavaliauskaitė is not verbose: her language is precise and confident, playful and ironic. Her preferred composition places the structure of a novella in a frame, and her intertextuality and humour are subtle. The author creates an original, modern, intertextual, and metatextual world.

In the context of the books discussed, Bibliofobija (Bibliophobia) by Aidas Jurašius is the odd one out. It is unique for its iconoclasm and for being shockingly, or even annoyingly, provocative. Here, the average Joe is motivated by an existential rebellion: against established societal norms, rules, and an acceptable way of life. Often, the narrator is a player, a trickster, and a great experimenter in various domains of life. Jurašius presents us with an idiosyncratic worldview, which I would characterize as an “entire apologia of Judas.” Bibliofobija tries to conquer the inertia of being and eternal neediness by going against the current by all means possible. Jurašius exhibits a literary audacity that is almost pretentious, but the world he creates is dense, hypnotic, and, ultimately ours. The attire of the works is uncomfortable—it makes the reader squirm, while also fixating them to the page. Special emphasis is placed on the relationships between men and women and all the dissonances, rough corners, ego manifestations, needs, desires, marginal experiences, and games associated with such relationships.

The provocative title is explained through the texts: initially, the characters believe in the truths of a bookish world, for it ought to explain the present reality and its mysteries. Later, they understand that “they lie, those books, they are just the grown-ups’ attempts to feel big and mighty” (p. 14). Finally, the games begin: life takes on literary aspects, whereas the books come to life.

To be honest, I was somewhat timid to start reading the short fiction of 2019 and 2020 from Lithuanian writers. Having just finished A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin and Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, my expectations for our own writers were even higher. Now, I breathe a sigh of relief—the question mark at the end of the title of this article appears to be superfluous.

 

 

 

Translated by Gabija Barnard

 

 

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