Alvydas Šlepikas (b. 1966) is a writer who lives in Vilnius. Šlepikas writes prose, poetry, and plays. His most known work is the novel Mano vardas – Marytė, which has been translated into more than ten languages. Alvydas Šlepikas is the recipient of various foreign and national literary prizes, most notably the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts. Last year A. Šlepikas published a collection of short stories titled Namas anapus upės: įvairių laikų istorijos, which was listed by the Intitute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore among the Most Creative Books of 2023 and the Top Five Best Books of 2023.

vr banner19

reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Martynas Pumputis

Martynas Pumputis



Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas


Alvydas Slepikas review Namas Anapus Upes 02Alvydas Šlepikas. Namas anapus upės (The House on the Other Side of the River). Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2023.

Alvydas Šlepikas holds a reputation in the Lithuanian literary scene as a versatile author, a writer proficient in all genres of literature. After reading his short fiction, his novel, and poetry collection, I am personally convinced of this. What is the secret to Šlepikas’s success? He takes his time in publishing books and maintains a connection to the Lithuanian literary tradition, taking some elements from it and re-actualizing and reinventing them. His blend of individual talent and respect for the tradition has been acclaimed by readers and critics alike – the novel Mano vardas Marytė (2011, published in English in 2020 under the title In the Shadow of Wolves) has been reprinted in Lithuania 12 times, and it has been translated into at least nine languages.

We see this same blend of tradition and individual talent in his most recent short story collection titled Namas anapus upės (The House on the Other Side of the River). The short story has a long history in Lithuanian literature, yet for this book, the context of the Soviet era is perhaps most important. During Soviet times, the short story served to counterbalance the officially celebrated novel and the great narratives it conveyed, many of which couldn’t avoid the insertion of ideology and hyperbolized depictions of social reality. Two Lithuanian writers credited with developing the genre of the short story and contributing to its popularity are Juozas Aputis and Romualdas Granauskas. Their influence can clearly be felt both in Šlepikas’s first book of short stories published in 2005, Lietaus dievas (The God of Rain), and in The House on the Other Side of the River, which is marked by a metaphysical, existential anxiety, a synthesis of nature and culture, and depictions of traumatic historical experiences.

In The God of Rain, rural realism is accompanied by hints of magical realism and the supernatural (e.g., the flight of the elder Laurinavičius above the village in the short story “Whirlwinds of May” as he observes his own body being lifted from a tree by firemen), while the endings are most always tragic, concluding with the deaths of the characters (exploring with equal measure the death of the protagonist as well as the grief of the people around them). These stories are set in the same time and space, with the same members of the rural community appearing across the different narratives. We see this same darkness in The House on the Other Side of the River, albeit with different aspects. Here Šlepikas abandons chronological and spatial integrity: some of the narratives take place in indescribable timeframes, while others appear to be happening in Soviet times or in the present (or perhaps even in the future), occurring both in urban and rural settings. The formerly dramatic endings are replaced by a prevailing atmosphere of gloom, while the conclusions of these stories are mystical, ambivalent, symbolic, and difficult to interpret – perhaps requiring a separate methodological analysis in order to be fully appreciated.

The most striking example of adapting the tradition can be seen in the last short story from the collection, titled “Wasteland.” It’s set in modern times and is about two boys who, while on their way to a landfill, encounter a shocking scene of crucifixion taking place in a gravel pit. This Biblical scene is not only modernized (the female soldiers are making jokes and taking photos of the execution, while the crown of thorns is replaced with one made of wire) but also reinvented: three women are being crucified by a crowd of women. As she is dying on the cross, one woman calls out for her mother instead of father. The only male characters in this story are the two boys.

Some of the stories retain the usual structure, where the narrative is told from the beginning (“A Distant Road”) or the necessary information is provided throughout the course of the narrative (“When Is Mickey Coming?”). However, other stories are set in the middle of the course of events. Five of the seven stories in this book share the motif of a journey or movement, and indeed the reader is thrust upon these narratives as if they’re only catching up to the events, without the benefit of knowing the characters or what happened to them. The mystery is reinforced by the supernatural aspect – the traveling father and son come across “a creature soaring in the infinitude of space which itself was infinity and space” (p. 12) – the Great Mother... The tiresome path of the injured partisans toward salvation leads to the death of one of them, while another, Liepa, faces the end of her life in a dreamlike way. The imaginations of the characters are activated and thus muddle the reader’s perception of what is reality and what is vision.

Depictions of the great tragedies of the twentieth century are twofold. The book’s titular story “The House on the Other Side of the River” explores the theme of Lithuanian partisan warfare, while “A Distant Road” narrates the story of a family forced to abandon their home as the front line approaches. Opposite to speaking from a victim’s perspective, “Pavlov’s Dogs” is narrated from the point of view of a female scientist devoted to the communist regime. Experiments on humans and animals are at the forefront of the story. It satirizes the assistant’s fanatic outlook and emphasizes the absurdity of her beliefs: “Academic Pavlov does such pure experiments that he begins to do the experiment only when, after the operation, a child or dog, or for example a monkey, has fully recovered, so no inflammation remains, and when their temperature has returned to normal. […] Kolya looks at us angrily, but the little dimwit doesn’t understand that he’s a participant in a scientific experiment, that he should feel happiness and honor, that he is serving proletarian science“ (p. 25). In terms of theme, the story is just as dark, yet the tone here serves to contradict this – and it only amplifies the disturbing impact of the story in the way it describes the grotesque experiments conducted on children.

Some of these short stories focus more on the psychological state and the mind of the characters. In “Cloud,” we see the young man Danius’s efforts to remain sane, while “When Is Mickey Coming?” presents to us a true detective story, which was perhaps inspired by the pandemic. The old man, exposed to heat and stuck with his wife in almost quarantine-like conditions, is plagued by his own subconscious trying to remind him of a committed crime. In spite of the short-lived intrigue, betrayed to us by the foreshadowing at the beginning of the story (“I’ve forgotten something, there’s something I can’t remember – this pesky thought kept buzzing in his head. It bothered and disturbed him. He closed his eyes and tried to remember, yet it seemed hopeless, for in the clouds of his mind he could only see some dark creature or form, but it was so far away that he couldn’t even discern its outline” [p. 65]), the narrative is all the more interesting because the true intrigue lies in the protagonist’s realization. The children, who symbolize the old man’s subconscious, guide him to a secret he had kept from himself.

Šlepikas borrows not only theme and atmosphere, but also manner of speech from tradition. His prose is lyrical, billowing in long and fluid yet precise sentences: “The two-storey red brick house stood in a valley by a small, fast-flowing stream, not far from the water, looking neglected and dead” (p. 29). Dialogues are sparse, but the characters’ voices are distinctive. We see the world told from the perspective of a child quite differently as compared to the perspective of an adult, while the old man Virkau sees himself in yet another way. Šlepikas had already mastered the difference in speaking from the points of view of a child and an adult in The God of Rain.

To conclude, in his short story collection The House on the Other Side of the River, Šlepikas still relies on the literary tradition while maintaining his individual style. He also reminds us of how proficient he is in the language of the short story. The seven stories, seemingly different yet united by the existential and metaphysical experiences they convey, raise more questions than answers, leading us to infer and interpret rather than providing a sense of surety. Herein lies the source of their allure and, most likely, their longevity.




 your social media marketing partner


logo lktlogo momuzAsociacija LATGA logo vilnius




logo lrsThe Lithuanian Culture Institutelogo lim

Write us