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Valdas Papievis

Valdas Papievis (born in 1962 in Anykščiai) is a prose writer and translator.
In 1985 he finished Lithuanian literature studies at Vilnius University and worked at Vilnius University from 1985 till 1990. From 1988 till 1990 he was instrumental in publishing the cultural magazine Sietynas, which was independent from Soviet censorship, and from 1990 to 1992 he was the adviser to Darius Kuolys, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. He is the author of four novels and one book of stories. Papievis debuted in 1989 with the novel Ruduo provincijoje (Autumn in the Provinces). His novel Eiti (To Go) was nominated as the most creative book of the year. Since 1992 he has lived in Paris. He worked for Radio Free Europe till 2004. Papievis collaborates with Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT). He has been a member of Lithuanian Writers Union since 1989.

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Valdas Papievis review 02

Valdas Papievis has been living in Paris for over twenty years, and his prose can be recognized from a number of factors: ties with French culture, a minimalist plot, and a melodious and poetic narrative. Papievis’s reader must be patient and prepared for slow reading, when the dramatic highlight depends not so much on the external plot as on the devised level of the psychological text.

These components can be spotted in Papievis’s latest novel, Odilė, arba oro uostų vienatvė (Odilė, or the Loneliness of Airports). In the most general sense, it is a book about decline and change: the passing of time, aging, and the changing epoch. It is Odilė, a ninety-year-old Parisian of an old wealthy family, who imparts meaning to these ideas. When the number of her next of kin is dwindling and her flat in central Paris is spacious and empty, an immigrant tenant appears next to this lady of extensive experience. This character encounters Odilė in the sunset of her life, becomes her companion, and looks after her until her death. The established jigsaw of daily habits and unexpected details allow them to exploit the opportunities of life and to experience the luxury of being.

Odilė, arba oro uostų vienatvė consists of short chapters about unexceptional, mundane episodes. The book mostly consists of the tenant’s narrative recorded in the present tense, which evolves from the independent course of events and from hearsay. The latter is made up of retold dialogues, fragmentary reminiscences, rumours  about Odilė’s relationships with Albert Camus, and “the text within the text” – an unsophisticated love story set in a holiday resort reflecting the emancipation of its main character, Ana Marija – that Odilė had penned her- self. Due to these other perspectives, the life of Odilė from Paris might resemble the world of the heroes from once-read old-fashioned novels. This, however, does not happen, because the narrative takes place in the present and the reader must trust the voice of the narrator about whom hardly anything is known. The narrative about the final stage in Odilė’s life overheard from the other avoids the treatment of the individual as a history-dependant personality and weakens the tendency for suffering to be dramatized. Even when the old lady is becoming frail, the others want to see her strong and mythologize her somewhat.

The central duo in the books, Odilė and her tenant, are like fellow travellers linked by the metaphor of a transient visit (visite). Only having found himself under the same roof, the character who is not tied to any country, who does not have significant other, and who hardly reveals anything about himself, is equal to the wealthy lady who, it seems, had everything in her life. They both represent cultural ties: the tenant hints at his immigrant experience and his private bohemian circle, while Odilė forms the impression about the manners and social customs of the twentieth-century belle époque and embodies stereotypical French taste. Yet the relationship between the characters in the novel does not look personal: it is a partnership marked by melancholy and the impressions of here and now. There is a space for privacy and loneliness, too. By depicting life “as it is” (or, ironically, what it “could be”), Papievis intensifies the openness to universal existential experience. An intellectual wanderer in quest for his place can be spotted in all the novels by this author, who in his books brings his hero closer to different social strata: clo- chards, the middle class, and, in this novel, a representative of aristocracy that is retreating into the past. In Papievis’s novels the narrator is mostly associated with vagrants. In the novel Eiti (To Walk, 2010), he emphasized walking as a physical and psychological activity; in the even earlier novel Vienos vasaros emigrantai (Emigrants of One Summer, 2003) he included a map of walks around Paris. In his latest novel, the character undergoes the transformation from a flâneur (a stroller who observes society) to a visiteur (visitor).

Papievis’s narrating character is an influential figure: he guards and perceives simultaneously. He is eager to guard the remnants of obsolescent Western culture, such as old books or Odilė’s diary that he does not throw away. He admires refinement and the ability to experience the moment. In this novel we see the breaking point between past and present worlds, which becomes a shelter to the tenant who has not established any permanent ties. During this stage he conveys a message about Odilė to us and at the same time represents the modern individual who has not found his place and has failed to take root. It is then not only the everyday life of the elderly lady but also the tenant’s intense internal life and his stream of consciousness soaring above mundane worries that stand out and make an impression. The author’s mastery of language is a strength in this novel as well. The topography of Paris, a city that has outlived numerous generations, can appear somewhat more modest than the map of the narrator’s experiences and imagination.

Through rich language and a minimalist plot, Papievis once again succeeds in outlining connections with Eastern (his earlier novel Eiti) and Western aesthetics. It is not at all surprising that a text by this author is recognized from its intricate and poetic language and from the demonstrated feeling of language. In a more obvious manner than in Papievis’s other works, the syntax of Odilė, arba oro uostų vienatvė makes the reader observe the influence of French on his texts. In Lithuanian, the word order is free; therefore, a verb moved to the end of the sentence seemingly imitates the French rhythm which renders the reading of this novel unusual. It once again points to the unexplored possibilities of the Lithuanian language in literature. A distance is created and touched upon in the novel; the present can be retold, and a perspective of a different culture can be shown through imitation.

Odilė, arba oro uostų vienatvė shows again that a valuable literary work does not necessarily have to astound the reader with its intricate plot. The theme that Papievis has chosen to develop, the influence of Western European envi- ronment, the melodious sentence and its length still impart novelty to the most recent Lithuanian prose. This is literature that is in no hurry and which does not strive at becoming a sentimental postcard from Paris.

 

 

 

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