A hundred years since Lithuania regained independence, all too briefly. Something to celebrate.
I passed through in the summer, over sea and land from Helsinki to Warsaw and south-westwards.
We didn’t stay long.
I wish I had. My Polish grandmother had made me promise I would visit Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, and to my shame, I still haven’t. She was born in Warsaw but her family had a farm in independent Lithuania, and spent their summers there. So my grandmother didn’t stay in Lithuania long, either. Then there was another world war, Soviet occupation; so many things changed while she was away, that when she could, she never went back.
So this short story collection was both very familiar and very strange – Lithuanians living in the States provide a way in. They are caught between two or more realities, and you don’t have to be from anywhere particular to know how that feels.
Reading Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again on my e-reader as the flat Baltic landscape shifted almost imperceptibly, made sense. The author brings her perceptiveness of human nature together with childhood memories of growing up under Soviet occupation.
Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, the “mother of the modern Lithuanian essay”, is dry and wry and made me laugh. She turns ordinary things upside down.
Elizabeth Novickas must have had fun translating someone who understands what her work is like.
These are stories forged by moonlight, perfect for lengthening winter evenings, nostalgic perhaps, anything but sentimental, much less simple than they look. A window on a world behind the Iron Curtain that’s slipping out of memory, they reminded me of Swallowing Mercury. I’ll be looking out for more translations of Giedra Radvilavičiūtė’s work. And next time I’m in Lithuania, I’ll stay longer.