I had little more than twenty-four hours in Vilnius, so I picked this up at the airport when I left. First – what a civilised airport that it had proper books like this for sale.
Second – I was utterly drawn in, so much so that I changed my summer holiday plans to spend more time in the city. I knew a bit about its Polish history – Adam Mickiewicz lived there and studied at the university, as the plaque above its main entrance says (pictured). He belongs to both Poles and Lithuanians. As the city does. And this book told me about both, and the Jews who lived there, too.
Traces of the Polish Catholic past are hard to miss, not least Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn and the silver devotionals surrounding her shrine.
This Wilno is the one of teenage memories of the great generation of Poles who suffered much and left, my grandmother included. But there was also Vilna, the Jewish one. The next story is about a man who could have been a grandfather, but never had children. He grew up there too.
And the last story is about the Lithuanian Vilnius, rising up unbowed out of dark times.
The original photographs are a wonderful addition to the stories. And boy, can this woman write. Vilnius Wilno Vilna by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė, translated by Romas Kinka is published by Baltas Lankos. Her award-winning Silva Rerum series is not published in English, yet – I went back to Vilnius later this summer and read the first two volumes of the Polish translation by Izabela Korybut-Daszkiewicz, which turned Olga Tokarczuk into a fan. It’s wonderful too, but now I have to wait for her translations of volumes three and four… or start learning Lithuanian, fast!