A nation of books

  • 2011-02-23
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - Lithuanians are bookworms – on Feb. 17-20, the 12th annual Vilnius Book Fair, in the Litexpo center, demonstrated this: 61,800 visitors arrived to the fair, an all-time record (there were 59,200 visitors in 2010). Each February, the fair becomes the main news in Lithuania. This year, only the news about national mourning, announced for Feb. 18 and 19 due to the death of poet Justinas Marcinkevicius and his funeral, could compete with the news from the fair.

This year’s fair showed that the interesting part of Lithuanian-language literature, issued by Lithuania’s publishing houses, is now created by the new London-based Lithuanian emigration, especially its women. Critics evaluated the debut novel Neissipildymas (“Unfulfilled”), written in London, by Gabija Grusaite, as one of the best novels of the last year. It is a lesbian love story. Although the two main heroes of the story are Lithuanian female artists, the story develops in London, Paris, Barcelona, and New York. The novel’s heroes have no big nostalgia left for Lithuania. The novel is written about those who emigrate, looking for a more bohemian life-style, not for money.

The novel Mes Vakar Buvom Saloje (“Yesterday we’ve been to the Island”), by Aleksandra Fomina, is about those who work hard after emigrating to achieve the standard which is imposed on society by TV advertisements. The emigres’ work in London is portrayed as completely debilitating. “I wish you that blessed emptiness in a little household with three trees, a radio set, a satellite dish, a couple of dogs, many pairs of slippers, just a few books and too little spare time,” Fomina wrote sarcastically.

The fair also presented the novel Silva Rerum II, by London-based Kristina Sabaliauskaite. Her novel is a continuation of her novel Silva Rerum (the title means “the family’s book” in the Latin language), which was presented at the Vilnius Book Fair 2010 and had enormous success. The new novel by Sabaliauskaite continues the story about a family of Lithuanian aristocracy living in Lithuania in 1707-1710, which were unstable years for the Lithuanian statehood due to plague, wars and the rising power of Russia on the eastern border.

The fair showed that Lithuanians like intellectual literature. “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are,” said lawyer Leonas Virginijus Papirtis (who became famous when, in 2003, he was the lawyer of French rock musician Bertrand Cantat, who beat his girlfriend, French film actress Marie Trintignant, to death in Vilnius - this story inspired some documentary books in France) during the discussion about books at the talking corner in the Litexpo.