The latest addition to my website is Saulius Šaltenis‘Kalės vaikai (Bees on the Snow). The novel is set in a village in eighteenth century Lithuania. The problem for the Lithuanians is that the Germans, in particular, but also the Russians control the area. Early on, we see a Lithuanian family driven out of their home and tavern just because a German family want it. We get a host of colourful characters such as Fingerless Limba, the teacher and coffin-maker, the herdboy who becomes bell-ringer, Karvelis, poor Lotė the Betrothed and her fatherless child Jonelis and, above all, Pastor Kristijonas whose mother negotiated with Death to save him from the plague and who chooses his coffin, seemingly after he has died. Their enemies are mocked – the Germans, the bishop and his retinue and the small squire who married a much larger woman. Above all we get a host of wonderful linked stories- sometimes more than one version of the same situation – and lots of colourful characters, some good, some bad, quite a few both
The latest addition to my website is Ričardas Gavelis‘ Sun–Tzu gyvenimas šventame Vilniaus mieste (Sun-Tzu’s Life in the Holy City of Vilnius). This is a wonderful witty romp through Soviet and post-Soviet Lithuania, as seen through the eyes of the narrator, a sex-obsessed, philosophical, scientific gangster, whose real name we do not know but who has adopted the name of the famous Chinese strategist. This Sun-Tzu has no moral scruples and takes full advantage of corruption in post-Soviet Lithuanian but, at the same time, has highly original ideas about, for example, the second brain or turning his enemies into works of art, while stealing whatever he can and even losing his wife in a card game. He is avowedly evil and proud of it, not least because the Lithuanians are all dolts. Gavelis has great fun in his final novel, demolishing all and sundry and giving us a thoroughly original read.
I have just returned from a trip to Sweden and Lithuania. In Sweden, I stayed in the small town of Växjö (small but with a large university in its outskirts). Despite its size, it is the birthplace of several writers, including Jonas Jonasson, author of Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared), Pär Lagerkvist, author of Dvärgen (The Dwarf) and Barabbas, Peder Sjögren, only one of whose books has been translated into English, Kärlekens bröd (Bread of Love), and, from nearby, Carl Linnaeus, who was educated in Växjö. However, as for current literature, Växjö is going the way of the rest of us – online and ebooks. There are two bookshops in town, both part of the Akademibokhandeln chain (link in Swedish only). See photo above, left, for the largest of the two.
Sara Stridsberg’s latest
And here is what they are reading or, at least what Akademibokhandeln is selling (all links to English-language sites, unless otherwise indicated). Sara Stridsberg has not been translated into English but has been translated into other languages. I have a copy of her Drömfakulteten [The Faculty of Dreams] in French. Her latest novel Beckomberga is doing well. It is subtitled Ode to My Family but is about and set in the famous Beckomberga mental institution.
Gabriella Håkansson is another Swedish writer not translated into English but translated into other European languages. She writes Gothic, historical novels. Kättarnas tempel [Temple of the Heretics], second part of a trilogy, has just been published.
Lena Andersson is another author who has not been translated into English. Last year her first novel about love – Egenmäktigt förfarande [Arbitrary Decision] – was published and it has now come out in paperback and is selling well. It is about how much we are willing to deceive ourselves in our desire to be loved.
Hanne-Vibeke Holst is a Danish writer whose latest work, Knud, den store [Knud, the Great], about her father the writer, Knud Holst, has just appeared in Swedish. Do I need to tell you that nine of her novels have been translated into German but none into English?
Christian Jungersen‘s Du Forsvinder (You Disappear) has just appeared in Swedish but, amazingly enough, is already available in English.
Majgull Axelsson’s latest novel
Majgull Axelsson has had a couple of her books translated into English – Aprilhäxan (April Witch) and Rosario är död (Rosario Is Dead) (the latter is non-fiction). Her latest novel – Jag heter inte Miriam [My Name Is Not Miriam] is just out in Sweden.
As for translated novels, they are reading the Knausgård epic – all are available in Swedish (we are still on the third) and the fifth is massive!- the new Murakami, The Goldfinch, Stoner (I must read it one day), Gone Girl, Philipp Meyer’s The Son and Siri Hustvedt‘s Den lysande världen, which we know as The Blazing World, though they also like the romantic novelist, Jojo Moyes.
Adam Mickiewicz’ house in Vilnius
Vilnius is a charming little town that claims to have the largest old town in Europe. Lithuania has, like most East European countries, had a turbulent history. It only ever had one king and he lived eight hundred years ago. (They nearly had another but he died just before his coronation.) For most of the time they were a Grand Duchy, more or less, subordinate to Poland though, interestingly enough, the Polish royal family, the Jagiellonians, descended from Lithuanians as much as from Poles. At one time, they were much bigger than they are now, encompassing not only modern-day Lithuania but also parts of what are now Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. It is strange to think that cities like Smolensk and Vitebsk, that we think of as Russian, were once Lithuanian. Vilnius itself also changed hands and, indeed, was part of Poland till the end of World War II when Stalin generously gave it back to Lithuania. The Polish national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, studied and spent some time in Vilnius. The unprepossessing house pictured, right above, is where he lived but there are several other markers in Vilnius of places where he lived and studied. He is best-known for writing Poland’s national epic, Pan Tadeusz, whose opening lines are
Lithuania, my fatherland! You are like health;
How much you must be valued, will only discover
The one who has lost you.
The book is in print in English and readily available.
Eureka!’s Lithuanian fiction section
In Vilnius I visited Eureka! Knygynas. (Russian speakers will recognise the second word as being related to the Russian word for books, книги). I asked them which Lithuanian novelists are still being read and here is what they suggested.
Jurgis Kunčinas was a poet and novelist, who died in 2002. None of his works has, of course, been translated into English but two of his novels are available in German. Kristina Sabaliauskaitė lives in London and writes historical novels, none of which has been translated. Jurga Ivanauskaitė died aged forty-five but is still very much read. She wrote poetry, short stories and novels. A poetry collection has been translated into English. Two of her novels, both of which I have, have been translated into German. Romas Gudaitis is best-known as a politician but he also wrote four novels, none of which has been translated but which are still read in Lithuania.
Romualdas Granauskas’ latest novel, published this year. It means Third Life
Romualdas Granauskas is only known in English in the anthology Come into my Time, though a couple of his novels have been translated into German and one into Italian and Spanish. Though in his seventies, he is still publishing and still selling well in Lithuania.
Juozas Erlickas is known for his humorous works, making fun of post-independence Lithuania. He mainly writes plays and poems and has not, of course, been translated into English. Sigitas Parulskis writes mainly poetry and plays. One of his poetry collections has been translated into English. One of his novels has been translated into German.
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