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Akvilė Kavaliauskaitė is a journalist, prose writer and lecturer. She was born in 1988 in Ukmerge. In 2011 she graduated from the Institute of Journalism at Vilnius University. During her studies she started writing articles for various magazines and writing is still a major part of her career. Most of her texts could be described as portraits of exceptional people and opinion articles. Since 2011 Akvile has had numerous editorial and directing roles for various Lithuanian television channels. In 2013 she has become one of the creators and presenters of a popular TV social documentary Lithuanians Around The World (Emigrantai). In 2015 her debut novel Two Lives In One Summer (Du gyvenimai per vieną vasarą) has been released. 5 years later, in 2020, she has come back to the world of literature with a collection of short stories called Bodies (Kūnai). Currently Akvile is working as a freelance journalist and copy writer. Also, she is giving lectures on creative writing.

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Akvile Kavaliauskaite review 02

Akvilė Kavaliauskaitė, Kūnai. – V.: BALTO leidybos namai, 2020.

Bodies is the second book by the journalist, screenwriter, and novelist Akvilė Kavaliauskaitė. Having published her debut novel Two Lives in a Single Summer five years ago, Kavaliauskaitė makes a comeback with a collection of short stories. And this return is truly strong.

The title of the book precisely describes its essence. The short stories reflect a wide panorama of bodies, deal with corporeality, and are like collages built out of details, symbols, and intriguing impressions. The bodies in the stories are awkward bodies, bending down to tie laces with fingers calloused from playing guitar. They are bodies that walk thousands of kilometers, shells filled with the strangest of experiences that are so hard to escape. They are collector bodies preparing for the apocalypse and homo ludens playing and creating shapes.  They experience nudist beaches and the torture of insomnia and have “faces chewed up by time.” They dig holes and sometimes fall into them themselves. The creative body, unions and separations, closeness and distance—so many wonderful things sustain themselves under the skin of the characters of the novellas. Kavaliauskaitė explores relationships and their dynamics and contradictions through bodies. Metatextuality, “art within art,” is also lavishly used because the image and its reflection are tools for understanding and exploration. The most exceptional short stories, to me, were those dealing with creation, including such stories as that of the journalist Lars who becomes requalified to be a doctor, Denis Lukošius’s experiments with creative writing, Marijus’s film with the outspoken title Bodies, Bortolomeo’s performance in Rome, and the final production of Uncle Vanya.

As mentioned previously, Kavaliauskaitė does not aim to present a polished and monochromatic picture. These are the playful shapes of life, sometimes forced to become serious for a brief moment in time and to reveal their fears and insights, for example: “physical limitations of the body free the mind” (p. 100). The body is used as an (al)most reliable measure of time with impressive marks, and all the observable changes help identify both the physical and spiritual age of the character: “Viktorija is laying in the bath. The water is clear, free of bubbles, hot. She sees her whole body and imagines it small, without breasts, hair or appendix scar, as it was in August before first grade, when she washed in the metal basin in the kitchen of their garden house” (p. 149). And in the novella Contemporary animals, a dreamlike reality acts as as a metaphor for humanity—the contradiction between physical and intellectual origins is actualized:

“You know how the modern human wastes most of their energy?” Pause. “In the search of the balance between animal—their own body—and human—their intellect. By leaning too much to either side you’ll end up not fitting in; you might be misunderstood or even laughed at” (p. 101).

And the scales continue to keep balance, with the protagonists trying to find the best weights. However, even here, many things remain immeasurable: the raw nerve running through the book is made of pulse, touch, and how people pass each other by in life.

I cannot say that the author has chosen completely new themes—Kavaliauskaitė uses people’s interactions and the way they pass each other by, their eternal grip on solitude, as well as an ironic and playful gaze towards art and the source of creation. She focuses on the value of a single life, touching upon the components forming the foundation of the self and human identity. She pays attention to childhood experiences and how they are relived in adulthood. Yet the chosen angle, space, and details as well as the method of narration make the storeis in this book exceptional. The author manages to create an original chronotope and a wide kaleidoscope of experiences. The protagonists of Bodies are people of varied experiences from different social groups. They are solitary (the human is solitary within), reject those closest to them, and long for closeness.  They are artists, winners of unexpected prizes, and winners of something else. They are subjects diving into childhood memories as though it were warm water. They desire something (because all humans desire something)—attention, love, recognition, change, to regain lost time or people, adventures. Each story, and even more so the method of narration, is colorful and unique, highlighting different angles and sub-angles of existence. The stories are particularly enlivened by their unexpected details and dynamics. When reading the stories, I felt that the author was trying to dig deep into her characters’ most profound layers of identity, to extract the essence of meaning, while still leaving ample space for the reader’s imagination. The characters are united not only by their attention toward corporeality but also their effort in questioning conventionality. The leave that has settled long ago in domestic and existential planes is ruthlessly poured out, so that the world can be seen from a different angle. This is how one tiny detail changes the whole meaning and essence of love-making:

Things that most men asked about he did not notice, because for the whole hour he gazed upon Ida Almen’s forehead. He was completely disinterested in her body the first time and each time he saw it. He wanted to see the creases on her brain, the neurons, the hormones— everything that created that wonderful mind (p. 24).

An important aspect that defines the short stories is the understanding of internal and external journeys—from Norway to Italy, from Zarasai to Mallorca, from the usual beginnings or  strangely twisted original plots to extraordinary endings. The characters’ journeys are toward themselves and others, and sometimes quite contrarily, it appears that the journey is made in the opposite direction. The wide geography of Bodies encourages us to use our imagination and allow ourselves to be transported into unknown worlds.  Kavaliauskaitė spoils the reader with uncommon contexts and provided a fresh narrative perspective.

The stories are told organically and simply without furious four-story-high passages and sinuosity, but they are still engaging with their deep meanings and creatively used intertextuality, essential for all good writing. There are many repeating details and reoccurring sentences that become part of the stories’ structure, for example, framing the beginning or the ending of the story. To round up, detail is the queen of Bodies. Kavaliauskaitė is praiseworthy for her wonderful understanding of the structure of the short story and conforming to it as well as for narrating in an original and creative way. Whilst reading, I felt the “quality hand of the journalist” formed by an ability to tell the stories smoothly and mesmerizingly. A great deal of attention is dedicated to irony and to “tasteful” subtle humor, and the endings of the stories will knock you out and make you wonder what happens next in the characters’ lives.

To sum up, I can say that Kavaliauskaitė is a distinctive, original, and necessary voice, and Bodies is a creative, playful, and intriguing book truly worthy of attention.

 

 

Translated by Skirmantė Gough

 

 

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