Dr. Mantas Adomėnas (b. 1972) is a Classical scholar, translator, essayist, and, recently, a writer. Mantas Adomėnas was educated as a Classicist at Vilnius University. He wrote his doctorate on Plato and the Presocratic philosophers at Cambridge University, where he was also a Fellow at Gonville & Caius College. For three consecutive terms (2008-2020) he served as a Member of Parliament at the Lithuanian Seimas where he was one of the architects of the Lithuanian higher education reform, author of relations with diaspora strategy, as well as a consistent supporter of fight for democracy and human rights in Russia, Belarus, China, and Hong Kong. In 2021-2023 he served as Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. He currently teaches Classics at Vilnius University and is Senior Research Fellow / Chief Strategic Officer at the Baltic Institute of Advanced Technology.

Mantas Adomėnas writes and publishes essays and scholarly articles on topics ranging from Classics and architecture to political philosophy and current affairs. His first novel, “Moneta & labirintas” (The Coin and the Labyrinth), an intellectual spy thriller, was published in 2023. He served as a Private in the Lithuanian Army Volunteer Corps in 2015-2018. He has been decorated with the Presidential Order of Excellence of Georgia (2013). His hobbies are travel, horse-riding, croquet, and Baroque.

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Mantas Adomenas review 02Mantas Adomėnas. Moneta ir labirintas (The Coin and the Labyrinth). Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2023 (Part I) / 2024 (Part II).

Mantas Adomėnas's spy novels – both the first and the second part of The Coin and the Labyrinth – have been at the top of the Lithuanian bookstore charts for half a year now, alongside the books of influencers and health gurus, the newly revived Dune by Frank Herbert, and the somewhat stale pearls of wisdom by Paulo Coelho.

The publication of The Coin and the Labyrinth came as a surprise to many. Although not Ian Fleming or John le Carré, Adomėnas is a man of intriguing reputation. First, he is a classical scholar with a PhD in Plato and the Presocratic philosophers from Cambridge University. Despite the fact that the down-to-earth Lithuanian political climate is certainly not the easiest for someone known for his colorful pocket squares and who states his hobbies to be “horse riding, croquet, and Baroque,” for three consecutive terms he has managed to serve as a Member of Parliament. While some might envision a mundane existence of parliamentary duties, Adomėnas has kept a consistent focus on fighting for democracy and human rights in Russia, Belarus, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Almost up until the publication of his debut novel, he held the position of deputy minister of foreign affairs, and it is widely thought that he used to bring the lion's share of ideas for the Conservatives, often bringing forth unconventional foreign policy initiatives. And as for what we might care about as a reader of the novels – he is someone familiar with classified information and the ways today's Ephialtes or Kim Philbys fiddle with our democracies, and at the same time he himself exudes an aura reminiscent of a mischievous courtier, adding an enigmatic allure to his literary persona.

Mantas Adomenas review 02Initially, we might assume that Adomėnas's novels are extensive as well as brimming with intricate intellectual nuances that may surpass public preferences. However, the steadfast readership of these novels suggests otherwise. It appears that these literary works have struck a chord, addressing certain deficiencies that have plagued Lithuanian literature for the past decade. After Sabaliauskaitė's Silva rerum (2008) and Alvydas Šlepikas' In the Shadow of Wolves (2012) (maybe we could cautiously add Rimantas Kimta’s bildungsroman and the phenomena of Undinė Radzevičiūtė) there has been a noticeable absence of a breakthrough in Lithuanian literature that resonates equally with both critics and the general readership.

The recent trajectory of our literary landscape has been characterized by horizontal and territorial expansion, with forays into genres and identities previously unexplored, even if not all of these endeavors have been the pinnacle of artistic excellence. While the cherries may be plentiful, the cake often lacks the essential components of substance and allure. Adomėnas, amidst his other achievements, offers readers both the icing (the gripping plot) and the biscuit (the compelling grand narrative), which brings a sense of belonging, sought by many in a postmodern world of relativity and chaos.

What adds to the allure of the grand narrative presented in these books is its uncanny resonance with the contemporary geopolitical landscape. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous transition from the twilight years of the Soviet Union to the eruption of full-scale Russian conflict in Ukraine, more than thirty years also makes it possible to feel that these two books could have turned into one impressively sized book or two very different books. However, the numerous chronological jumps are made smoothly and seem to be the work of a skilled specialist in montage.

One layer of these novels unravels the saga of a generation thrust into adulthood amidst the crumbling remnants of the Soviet Union, and it is not only a testimony to the complex, strange, and distorted reality of the post-Soviet era, in which state institutions, including the secret services, are born, but also as a chronicle of what might be deemed a miracle: the rebirth of Lithuanian independence. This miraculous resurgence appears pivotal in shaping the ethos of an entire generation, particularly for the protagonist, Tomas – a history scholar turned counter-intelligence operative.

The restoration seems to have served both as a proof that against all odds hope and will can bring about the victory of the Good and as a stimulus to continuously explore the historical tension between unfulfilled chances, alternative possibilities, the historical reality in which we live and the future that awaits us (or is being mapped out for us). If a primum movens is the primary cause of all the motion, maybe a gentle tip by an agent from Eastern Europe would be enough to shift the course of history at least a little? (Such latinisms, references, and mannerisms are abundant in the novels, but most of the time they are more tasteful than this one).

Will and hope in the ultimate victory of the Good brings in what we might call the Baltic perspective of always playing David against the Goliath. Through the lens of Tomas's coming-of-age journey and his induction into the realm of counterintelligence services, Adomėnas unveils the arduous Lithuanian struggle to loosen Russia's stranglehold – a struggle depicted not as a fleeting endeavor, but as an ongoing odyssey of internal political maneuvering and the ‘nationalization’ of criminal networks by severing their umbilical cord to Moscow.

Though these trials merely serve as preparatory stages for our protagonist's ultimate quest, Adomėnas weaves the reality and fiction so tight that the mind boggles at times, at least for the Lithuanian reader trying to discern the fact from fiction – starting from esoteric movements of the ’90s or the repeated attacks of NATO soldiers performing Baltic Air Policing missions and ending with what is probably a depiction of certain politics and public figures under fictional names. With each step, the modern-day city of Vilnius emerges as a clandestine hub of espionage, rivalling the intrigue of Cold War-era Vienna.

So, what is the ultimate quest that our hero is being brought up to undertake? Without spoiling the reader's enjoyment, I would put it like this: to unravel the enigma surrounding the events in Nizhnedvinsk, a town nestled in northern Russia. Specifically, our protagonist endeavors to uncover the circumstances behind the untimely demise of his mentor and father figure, Leonas, during his mission there. Additionally, he seeks to unveil the machinations of the Russian operatives and identify any potential breaches within the home office. What sounds like a pretty much standard objective for an intelligence officer in a spy novel turns out to be an intellectual adventure worthy of a doctorate in history (Adomėnas’s PhD in classics has an overall loose tongue in the text but shows its true colors here). In the search for clues, we find ourselves delving as far back as the fall of Constantinople and the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome. And that is where an adept of realpolitik a few years ago might have hit the brakes and, especially if they were a classicist, pointed to Aristotle: even if “it is not the poet's function to relate actual events” or to fulfil its aims and to have an effect on its audience, art should refer to “the kinds of things that might occur and are possible in terms of probability or necessity”![1] Sadly, however, the reality now seems to be different than that of a few years ago – to the last minute some Western analysts considered a fully fledged war in Europe impossible (and some, for days and days after) because it did not seem as a rational step for Putin to take. Now what is left behind is irrational or – to put it simply – a magical way of thinking.

The revelation that Putin advocates the works of Vladimir Solovyov (the dead one), Ivan Ilyin, and Nikolai Berdyaev – all proponents of the "Russian Idea," which adopts the historical uniqueness, divine calling, and global destiny of the Russian people and state – hints at a shift towards mysticism, esotericism, and quasi-religious nationalism and carries within itself reference to the idea of the Third Rome. And so does the Alexander Dugin, the “new Rasputin,” in his talks of Russia’s return to the status of superpower – the revival of Russia’s logos, its spirit and identity in a multipolar world, underscores this mystical turn. Drawing from postmodern philosophy, Dugin asserts the existence of a distinct Russian truth while concurrently dismissing the notion of absolute facts, contending instead that truth is a matter of belief, there are no absolute facts.[2] Adomėnas challenges us to confront the deluded psychopath – someone who perceives history as indebted to him – directly, rather than merely viewing him as a distorted reflection of ourselves in a crooked mirror.

Now last but not least – we have espionage, history, politics and geopolitics at work, so what is missing? Unquestionably, it is a love story – the exploration of characters and the portrayal of intimate encounters. Well, there are some. While present to some extent, these elements often feel relegated to the sidelines. Certain characters appear merely as set pieces, serving as individual or stereotypical props necessary for advancing the plot. Others, such as Leonas, Romualdas, and a select other few, possess a more nuanced and captivating allure.

As for Tomas – far removed from the suave archetype of a James Bond-esque spy – he too experiences his share of romantic entanglements. But his lovers certainly do not become the readers’ lovers and do not find a special place in their memory. To borrow from Shelley, they evoke a sense of desolation: Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away! While the love story, along with its accompanying intimate encounters, may at times feel somewhat mundane and awkward, it does align with the overall setting: we are looking through the eyes of Tomas, who at times seems almost someone who could be considered a bit of a sociopath – at times he does feel scared or alone, or he does pity himself that he is increasingly left behind as the time flies and he loses those close to him to either time or duty. Yet these moments seem tinged with a form of self-indulgence. Empathy is a rare commodity in his emotional repertoire, his perceptions of others often are superficial, and even the taking of a life – be it the first time – does not seem to be an event worthy of a lengthy pondering. He does seem to experience love (or at least the falling in love), but most of the time, it seems that the only real desire he shows is the desire to know. And it does seem that architecture takes his breath away more effectively than the jewels crafted by the divine hand from Adam's rib ever could.

Be that as it may, Adomėnas’s debut novels have emerged not only as a surprise but also as gripping page-turners and national bestsellers. They are at the same time novels of a literary scholar with a degree of metatextuality and self-reference no postmodernist would be ashamed of. It's challenging to find direct parallels in European literature. Many readers have pointed to Umberto Eco, and in the novels we find recurring references to John le Carré (it seems, with an intention to create distance from him) – here we might see something in between. Both le Carré and Eco are somewhat reluctant to give us elaborate passages on the inner workings of the human heart, yet their novels remain profound works of art. Adomėnas presents readers with an engaging narrative and an intellectual exploration of (geo)politics. The books could also be read as an open warning: we cannot afford the luxury of optimistic fatalism, merely accepting reality as it stands. We are confronted with a paradigm shift that compels us to reassess the rules of engagement in this ever-evolving landscape, guided by a completely different way of thinking.


1. Aristotle, Longinus, Demetrius. Poetics. Longinus: On the Sublime. Demetrius: On Style. Translated by Stephen Halliwell, W. Hamilton Fyfe, Doreen C. Innes, W. Rhys Roberts. Revised by Donald A. Russell. Loeb Classical Library 199. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 59.

2. Aleksandr Dugin: “We have our special Russian truth,” in: BBC Newsnight, 2016-10-28, in:





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