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Editor's word from the new issue:

 

Dear Readers,
I am pleased to present the second Vilnius Review anthology – an entire year of Lithuanian literature in selections of, I believe, the most interesting of its poetry and prose publications, along with selections from books published in English translation. We might call these pieces bait for future readers of these books.

The range of work this year is broad: from 20th century classics, authors recognized and renowned, to young, talented poets making their literary debuts.

Tomas Venclova, poet, critic, and translator, professor emeritus at Yale University, is one of the most recognized Lithuanian writers in the world. Yet because he is not a prolific writer, every one of his books is an event. The latest, Eumenidžių giraitė (The Grove of the Eumenides) is composed of only 16 original poems and 18 translations. According to the literary critic Virginija Cibarauskė, “in Venclova’s poetry, expressions of culture – language, architecture, cultural texts – often lend meaning and structure to reality and impart the promise of eternal life to it.” Some of Venclova’s poems are included here, and the reader can find within them interwoven strands of history, culture, memory, mythology, and contemporary life.

The poetry of Agnė Žagrakalytė, also an accomplished novelist, comes at you like a creative force of nature filled with quotidian details and colloquial language. Her playfulness, lightness and eroticism set her apart within the broader field of Lithuanian poetry. The heroine of her poems is audacious, unpredictable, open to the world, ironic – and very much alive.

The poems of Gintaras Grajauskas, poet, musician, dramaturge, are also lively and ironic. His selected poems, Then What, is set for imminent release by the renowned UK poetry house, Bloodaxe Books. In his work, Grajauskas  re-thinks our everyday domestic lives and examines certain clichéd aspects of our actions and thoughts. His is a rare Lithuanian poetic voice that doesn't put on airs, doesn't impose on the reader, doesn't suggest or elevate anything, doesn't have a national agenda, and doesn't moralize. Using the words of a policeman from one of his own poems, we could say that the goal underlying Gintaras Grajauskas' poetry is to “write down exactly what happened,” albeit with a certain ironic distance and perspective.

Judita Vaičiūnaitė (1937–2001) was one of the most famous 20th century Lithuanian poets. She was regarded as a poet of the city and a re-creator of famous myths. As her translator, Rimas Uzgiris, says, “Vaičiūnaitė made Vilnius the locus of both Lithuanian poetic obsessions: nature and history. The city is not just any city. It is northern, yet Baroque. It is an occupied city, under Soviet rule, yet steeped in its own history and mythology of independence. And with this new emphasis on the urban came an unsentimental look at the life of a modern woman in the city: single, educated, working, struggling to be free.” Vaičiūnaitė’s selected poetry is forthcoming in 2018 from Pica Pica press.

The final poetry selection in this anthology is an interesting mix of both debuting and young poets (having published 2-3 books), a kind of potpourri of the freshest work.

Our prose publications start with a selection from the novel Kraujas mėlynas (Blue Blood) by the well-recognized Undinė Radzevičiūtė. Her multicultural books are notable for their intellectual, black humor. The texts are multi-layered, fusing together East and West, philosophy and commonality. This novel is, according to literary critic Jūratė Čerškutė, “a story about the writer’s ancestors, the Borchs, who are listed among the Baltic barons; their history takes the reader to the times of medieval Livonia dense with conspiracies, betrayals, war, and machinations, as well as poison.”

Sigitas Parulskis is a well-established Lithuanian prose writer, and his novel Darkness & Company, published a few years ago, caused quite a stir here. Weaving together historical detail, heart-breaking poetic description, sensuality, Biblical references, and elements of magical realism in a thrilling plot, Darkness and Company is ground-breaking: it is the first major novel by an ethnic Lithuanian to examine the Holocaust in this country. According to the philosopher Leonidas Donksis, “reminiscent of the aesthetics of shocking beauty juxtaposed with horrific ugliness in such cinematographic masterpieces as Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter and Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties, Parulskis’ Darkness & Company is a tour de force, a blow to the reader in its handling of the tragic history of this nation.”

Another tour de force, albeit a classical one, is Antanas Škėma’s novel The White Shroud. Škėma is known for expanding Lithuanian literature by his introduction of stream of consciousness and his blunt depiction of madness, sex, existentialism, and even nihilism. The White Shroud is Škėma’s only novel, and is rightly considered by critics to be his most significant text and a classic modernist novel. Literary critic Elžbieta Banytė writes that “The White Shroud is a fusion of topics, motifs, and states that are at once specifically Lithuanian and generally universal, a drama of forced emigration, and, eventually, a story and interpretation of the disposition of the human being – not only of individuals in the mid-twentieth century, but in some ways contemporary ones too.”

The youngest and most unusual writer (in the Lithuanian context) in this anthology is Jonas Žakaitis. The short stories from his collection 90s call to mind Lydia Davis and contemporary Latin American short stories and flash fiction more than traditional Lithuanian prose. His collection is not called 90s for no reason, for his work conveys the unique, fragmentary quality of post-communist, “wild capitalist” life in Lithuania during the last decade of the 20th century. As the literary critic Virginija Cibarauskė writes, “Žakaitis’s texts often imitate images ‘from life.’ Written either in first-person or third-person, the stories resemble overheard conversations, memories, and fragments of larger tales.”

The essay genre of this Vilnius Review anthology is represented by Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, a literary critic, scholar and head of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. His book Uosto fuga (Harbor Fugue) was listed among the five best books of the year (in the prose category). The literary critic Rima Bertašavičiūtė writes that the “collection of essays Uosto fuga (Harbor Fugue) reveals the vision of an individual who, since childhood, has been involved in cultural and creative work of various natures: how he sees or would like to see the cultural life of Lithuania and what the cultural policy he is proposing consists of.”

In this 2017 anthology, you will also find reviews of the books from which the featured work was taken, essays on the latest developments in Lithuanian literature, as well as interviews with some of the authors: the novelist Undinė Radzevičiūtė, the essayist Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, and the poets Tomas Venclova and Agne Žagrakalytė.

I hope you may find some wisdom and inspiration herein. Happy reading!

Vilnius Review
Editor in Chief
Marius Burokas

 

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