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Jurga Tumasonytė is a prose author and interviewer whose numerous talks with artists working across a variety of fields have been published in Lithuanian periodicals. Tumasonytė was born in Kaunas in 1988. In 2011, she graduated from Vilnius University with a Bachelor’s degree in philology, and in 2015 – from Vytautas Magnus University with a Master’s degree in philology, having completed a literary studies program. For her debut short prose book Dirbtinė muselė (“Little Artificial Fly,” 2011), which demonstrates an original, ironic perspective on reality and is characterized by an engaging writing style, the author received the Kazimieras Barėnas Literary Award. Tumasonytė participated in poetry slam tournaments during 2010–2013; her writings are included in a set of texts by slam authors known as Slemas Lietuvoje! (“Slam in Lithuania!,” 2012). A fiction piece by Tumasonytė also appeared in Troleibuso istorijos (“Trolleybus Stories”), a 2015 selection of short stories written by Lithuanian authors. Jurga Tumasonytė used to work in eureka!, a small bookstore, and in 2018 the author published a book titled Knygyno istorijos (“Bookstore Stories”), which is made up of odd conversations she has had with the bookstore visitors. Jurga Tumasonytė published Undinės (“Mermaids”), her second collection of short stories, in 2019. The author also has published a novel titled Remontas (“Repair”, 2020) and a short story collection Naujagimiai (The “Newborn”, 2023).
She has received the Jurga Ivanauskaitė and Antanas Vaičiulaitis prizes, while her book Undinės was shortlisted among the Top 12 Most Creative Books of the Year and included in the Book of the Year list.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Neringa Butnoriūtė

by
Neringa Butnoriūtė

 

 

Translated by Diana Barnard

 

Jaroslavas_MelnikasJurga Tumasonytė, Naujagimiai (The Newborn). - V.: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2023

Jurga Tumasonytė is one of the most active Lithuanian writers of the younger generation. Her works are distinct because they illustrate a deformed picture of reality and combine the mundane and the mystical, which she conveys in a cinematic style, with a palpable comic touch. Tumasonytė's prose atypically reflects on such existential phenomena as death, life, and loneliness, and the most mundane elements can appear exotic.

In her latest book, Naujagimiai (The Newborn), Tumasonytė returns to her favorite genre of the short story and creates an original whole out of different stories. She said that at first, she was going to write a historical novel but soon realized she would not succeed. She is a writer who prefers (and succeeds in) fantasizing about and expanding the boundaries of reality with visions rather than a meticulous description of facts. This novel immerses the reader in the element of her imagination, so we should not expect a coherent realistic work.

The Newborn reflects on various stereotypes about the mystery of life, the mystery of the new conception. It is based on the idea that as times change, there is a natural need to start anew in a more perfect way: to design new equipment and build new cities and new political systems. What drives us to do this? Where does it lead?

The novel reminds us that we are driven forward by the survival instinct. Two aspects help us know this: (1) Paukštėnai, the place where the book is set and which, due to political and historical changes from the nineteenth century to the present day, changed its name as many as three times, and (2) the storyline of an unconventional family: the fates of the laumė, or fairy, Elžbieta, the priest Anicetas, and their daughter, Paulė, born out of wedlock. We do not fully know these characters, but we glean a great deal of information from the voices we hear in the other novellas, which reveal that they have been connected to them at different times and in different circumstances.

The Newborn offers us an idiosyncratic vision of the world that allows a fresh look at reality and achievements. Tumasonytė sees the animal element and physiological relations as the engine of world progress. This makes it possible to look at humanity in a simpler way than we are used to: not as a super smart human but as a biological species coded homo sapiens. Members of this species are thus instinct driven, inclined to provide for and to extend their lineage, and to evolve through the mind (to pursue education, a career, and, when empowered, to become a dominant “great individual”). In the novel, this is perceived as a guarantor of survival, which makes it easy for a person to see their own value: if you create “products” of human activity, you are useful and not barren. This pragmatic approach is not changed by either great wars, totalitarian regimes, or future technologies, yet it is evenly complemented by mythology and superstition.

In The Newborn, the view of life is shaped by two beginnings: the feminine irrational one, represented by beliefs in the pagan spells of laumės, and the masculine rational one, which relies on the achievements of science and civilization. Women are directly associated with the reproductive function, while the men in the novel experimentally breed new creatures that become independent (axolotls evolve into great apes). This book of short stories shows that our future is influenced by both beginnings. The outcome of their activity allows linking everything into a chain, thus making it possible for humans and creatures to be related. Life is best defined by the word “descendants”: a new generation descended from the same family. The periods of great crises and tragedies of humanity, against which the novel is set, only confirm that the lofty aspirations for perfection are a myth: life does not come up to paradise.

Although this vision of the world sounds ominous, this book is actually playful. Tumasonytė's writing is gentle pastiche, which makes it impossible to fully empathize with the work and to sensitively accept its drama. The author is well aware that today, a writer is capable of picking up and repeating what others have understood, so she makes a fairly free use of her general knowledge of modern history, Lithuanian mythology, and virtuality. She wrote each story from a different perspective and in a different style (classic story, a screenplay model, a folk legend), but we can sense that the descriptions are stylized, and sometimes they even seem to be “second-hand.”

Her characters are typically standard: they behave stereotypically, and their miseries are predictable. Their emotions are easy to voice artistically, and since the author feels the manner of speaking and thinking of one type or another, the result is cliches. Interestingly enough, we cannot trace exactly which models inspired them, because the source of creation is an inarticulate whole of stereotypes. All of Tumasonytė's writing plays on this “kind of life, kind of fiction” impression, but there is a stifled laughter in it that prevents us from accepting everything directly. Beyond any doubt we are in the position of observers of a performance, and reading texts written like this is a lot of fun.

Pastiche leads to the fundamental effect of Tumasonytė's prose: as she goes for the biological aspect, metaphysical mystery and humanism are absent, and we are not talking about life as if it were a miracle. Laumė can be a cruel judge, a healer in charge of fertility, while an over-pious virtue signaller can be just a village girl driven by her physiological needs (tempting a priest). What is not surprising is how easily evolution is transformed into mutation, and how everyday actions render us primitive (for example, a woman who wants to have a baby boy smears herself with horse semen). It is scaring, amusing, and surprising.

This pastiche transcends the stylistic mode and evolves into a worldview. The world that we imagine as a gradual evolution of transformation and civilization turns out to be less elegant, moral, and erudite in The Newborns. Tumasonytė refuses the moral judgement of actions. Therefore, much is possible in her novel. In this light, for example, she also interprets the desire of the modern human to return to the provinces, to artificially create their own small communities that profess a “natural” way of life.

We can look at the absurdity pervading The Newborns in a positive light, too. The creatures Tumasonytė has created and their mutual relationships show a high tolerance for otherness. Her prose shows the mundane as limitless and extremely open because the hierarchies we are familiar with no longer operate in it. For this reason, the anomaly destroys, in a positive way, the boundary between a person’s own identity and other people, the divine and human worlds, between noble and vulgar acts. Moreover, in the vision of the novel, the creation of the world out of primordial waters remains as much a presence as a virtual future.

While reading Tumasonytė's latest work, we can submerge ourselves in an affective vision of the world. One of the strengths of The Newborn is that it is open to various interpretations. It doesn’t only speak to us: it is about us. That is why it is worth believing that the magic of the novel will extend beyond its last page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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