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Fresh Vilnius Review Paper Edition

 

The new paper issue of the journal was published at the end of January and features the best Lithuanian literature of the past year (2023). It also includes some interviews, essays, book reviews, and a list of major events and prizes.

 

All who would like to order or purchase a copy:

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– buy “Vilnius review” in these bookshops:

 

In Vilnius

  • Writers’ Union Publishing House bookshop (K. Sirvydo g. 6)
  • Bookshop “Eureka” (Daukanto a. 2 / 10)
  • “Mint Vinetu” bookshop (Šv. Ignoto 16/10)
  • MO Museum, museum bookstore (Pylimo g. 17)

 

In Kaunas

  • “Kolibris” (K. Donelaičio 41)

 

In Europe

  • “Hopscotch Reading Room”, Kurfürstenstraße 14/Haus B, 10785 Berlin, Germany
  • “Robert‘s Books”, Dzirnavu iela 51, in courtyard, Riga, LV-1010, Latvia
  • “Ark Books”, Møllegade 10, 2200, Copenhagen, Denmark

 

 

Reading as an Oasis in Turbulent Times:
Or, in Other Words, What Happened in
Lithuanian Literature in 2023

 

Dear Vilnius Review reader,

 

I’m writing these introductory words as 2023 draws to a close. It is a time when it is not so easy to think about literature.

As I write, I am afraid. I’m afraid not just of specific geopolitical events that are causing great anxiety to humanity in this moment, but I’m also afraid of a social space in which anger is spreading ever more rapidly.

I’m unsettled by comments spoken live or written on social media, by the aggressive, often disrespectful tone of these comments. I feel how fear is slowly crystallizing in society, how the desire for revenge runs through people’s blood. Revenge against whom? Against all the evil that surrounds us? Against the sources of that evil? We lay blame at the feet of entire nations, we generalize evil, make it abstract, nationalize it.

I worry over whether it will even be possible to control all that anger, whether the world’s diplomatic scales can hold all the weight of injustice, whether it will collapse under mounting pressure...

Because I am afraid, I look around me and search for peace. I wish to rest, if only for a moment, from all the stress, anxiety, and fear. I long for an oasis.

Such an oasis for me has always been literature. Literature insulates me from the outside world, allows me to return to myself. Literature is an antidote to uncontrollable anger.

Therefore, while wishing that you may also find your own oasis from our times, I’ll try to highlight what happened that was good and worthwhile this past year in Lithuanian literature.

Let’s begin, naturally, with the classics. They say that every generation must translate the world’s classic literature all over again. Small countries–or more accurately, small communities of speakers of a specific language–must continually make the effort to translate their classic literature into other languages. Therefore, in this edition you will find completely fresh translations of the Lithuanian classic poet Maironis (1862-1932) by the translator Rimas Užgiris, a regular contributor to this journal. Maironis was a poet and a priest whose romantic and patriotic poems are considered a part of the foundation of Lithuanian literature (many later poets in one form or another–whether sincerely or with irony–have either mentioned or paraphrased Maironis in their work).

It is sometimes said that Lithuania is a land of poets. At the very least, our literary history does not lack good poetry. Every Lithuanian has probably at least tried their hand at writing a rhymed poem in school (of course, while in love). Speaking more seriously, however, historically, poetry always played an important role in our national consciousness. Poetry awakened us and called us forward on our path to freedom and independence. In this moment, obviously, poetry no longer takes on such a role in our society, at least not while our country is free. Besides an aesthetic function, no one demands that poetry perform any other mission (and that’s a good thing!).

So, what aesthetically pleasing work in Lithuanian literature was published over the last year? Noteworthy are two young poets who published their second books–Dovilė Bagdonaitė and Simonas Bernotas. In Bagdonaitė’s poetry you will find details that come from the world of art, as well as visual poems, because she is both a poet and an artist.

Bagdonaitė has her own unique way of encountering language–and her inner world is portrayed almost naively as her personal experiences become motifs to reflect on greater societal problems. Reading her work, you are left with a refreshing impression of newness.

The reader is left with a similar impression while reading the work of another young poet, Simonas Bernotas. He takes on an ironic stance and engages in social criticism. Through his work he gazes out at the world with sardonic, or sarcastic, distance. Writing about the Soviet-era poet Justinas Marcinkevičius, who has been the center of intense debate this year for an old pompous poem from another era dedicated to Lenin and composed on the occasion of his “glorious” birthday, Bernotas quips in his poem, “His majesty the lyrical subject”: I will think of him / As I’m scrolling on Facebook.

A more moderate, gentler, less expressive poetry is typical of the work of Diana Paklonskaitė, who in 2023 published her third collection of poems, Flowers like Dogs. Paklonskaitė belongs to a slightly older generation who came of age during the last decade of the Soviet occupation. At the same time, she spent almost 20 years living in Ireland and therefore envisions her poetry through the lens of a dual cultural tradition. More moderate lyricism is also typical of the poetry of another poet of the older generation, Vytautas Kaziela. In 2019 (in his earlier book), he won the Poet of the Year contest and now is occupying an ever more visible place in contemporary Lithuanian literature. In his newest collection, Do not open your eyes, Lord, his poems are comparatively short, minimalist in style, and linguistically clean while at the same time semantically loaded and full of allusions.

Let’s now turn to poetry’s cousin, prose. After taking a break from writing that lasted many years, one of Lithuania’s most notable writers and editors, Danutė Kalinauskaitė, published her novel, Whites Against Blacks. Although chess fanatics will be ultimately disappointed because the book contains no lessons or chess strategies, a certain strategy is at play in the narrative: the dichotomy between the past and the present and the bond between a mother who is ill and is losing her memory and her daughter. In this novel, the search for relatives takes on more personalities than there are pieces on a chessboard and each figure is unique. As a Lithuanian language writer, Kalinauskaitė’s prose is noteworthy for its attention to detail and for her perfect pitch.

Another writer of the younger generation, Jurga Tumasonytė, in her new book, The Newborn, masterfully takes on the stylistics of short prose in the novella genre. Typical of her work is a departure from reality and a certain, but not overdone, irrationality, a level of surrealism that creates a unique, somewhat mystical, atmosphere. In her book the stories carry the reader forward in historical time while certain characters are interconnected. As a reader, I enjoy the author’s sense of humor, her talent for creating character and authentic dialog, which often unmasks the recognizable absurdities of our daily lives.

Virginija Kulvinskaitė is the nom de plume of a Lithuanian literary critic, which separates the writer’s two oeuvres as writer and critic. In her fourth book, she published four short stories. In all four stories, the state of mind of the characters is extremely important, as are their ties to the past. All the stories are linked in certain ways. An advantage of her work is that all the stories pull the reader into a unique atmosphere that leaves you with the feeling of having watched several professionally rendered short films.

Last year the Vilnius Review internet journal initiated a new series that debuted with young writers. We decided to give talented young writers who had not yet published their first books the opportunity to have their writing published in English translation. We also asked them questions about their relationship with literary tradition, their relationship (or independence from) the literary community, their favorite foreign language writers, and the perspectives and insights they have cleaned from the process of writing. In this edition of Vilnius Review you will find the work of four new writers on the Lithuanian literary scene: two young poets, Austėja Jakas and Haroldas Baubinas, and two young fiction writers, Ieva Marija Sokolovaitė and Titas Laucius. We are hoping that their work will bring something new and bittersweet to the journal, perhaps the scent of turmeric.

In addition to literature, this journal brings to you book reviews, updates on traditionally important literary events and a list of prize winners, and also, like every year, thorough and leisurely interviews with writers.

Ugnė Žemaitytė invited three American-born literary translators who have taken up residence in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, to engage in conversation. These three musketeers are Adam Cullen, Jayde Will, and Rimas Uzgiris. They met in a special place, the newly established House of Literature in Vilnius. Each of them shared stories about how they became literary translators and insights into the translation process.

Another series was started this year by the writer and literary translator Laima Vincė. In this series she interviews North American writers with Lithuanian roots. In one of these interviews, she converses with writer and professor of creative writing and literature, Paul Jaskūnas (his poems and an excerpt from his novel can be found on the journal’s internet page).

There is also an essay published in this journal, written by essayist and translator Kotryna Garanashvili, who while referring to concrete details discusses the subtleties of the translation process, and traps translators may unwittingly fall into.

As a final, but extraordinary, publication in this journal, I’d like to highlight Laima Vincė’s deep conversation with the famous best-selling American author, Lidia Yuknavitch. Lidia has Lithuanian roots–her great grandparents, of the Juknevicius family (on her father’s side) immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. Among many strands of important themes in the interview, Yuknavitch talks about how she chose a Lithuanian name, Laisvė, (which translated into English means Freedom) as the name of one of her main characters in her newest novel, Thrust.

As I wrap up my modest introduction, I’d like to wish myself and all of you, freedom–the freedom and peace of mind to sometimes feel uncomfortable inside this translated world, and at the same time, the freedom to read as you wish, something that you may experience through reading these high-quality translations emerging from another literary tradition.

 

 

Saulius Vasiliauskas

Reader, writer, literary critic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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