An embracing past

  • 2004-03-18
Several years ago Irena Maciulyte Guilford wrote a novel about the interrelationship between second-wave immigrant Lithuanian-Canadians and relatives left behind in the Baltic country. The book is called "The Embrace" and it has been translated into Lithuanian.

Guilford, a Lithuanian-Canadian writer, recently accepted an invitation from the Vilnius publisher Baltos Lankos to be present for the launching of her book at the annual book fair in Vilnius this past February. The author was interviewed through e-mail by Irena Ross and asked about the impact and purpose of this visit.

As the Canadian-born daughter of postwar Lithua-nian immigrants, how would you describe your ethnic consciousness?
It has always been something received - through family and home, custom and community. It has also always been a consciousness of exile. Writing has become the doorway to forging my own connections, both within the diaspora and the homeland.

Until now, your first and only visit to Lithuania in 1985 accompanied by your father was restricted to five days in Vilnius. What stands out in your memory from that visit?
The atmosphere - bleak, gray, and silent. An oppressiveness, externally imposed, of course, and felt by all. But there was also the true inability to connect, though there was great desire on both sides. The hurt and pain of so many years, left untended, warped by the Cold War, occupation and oppression. It got in the way.

After that visit, your wrote your novel "The Embrace" about the interrelationship between relatives at home in Lithuania and those abroad in 1999. Was the visit to the land of your ancestry the impetus for writing this book?
No, the trip was not the impetus for the book, but it did go into the pot of stew which had been simmering on the stove for a long time, and from which my particular fiction is made, that is, Lithuanianess in its many forms, especially from the point of view of exile, or diaspora. The material is rich and deep.

As the author of "Glebys," the translated-into-Lithuanian version of "The Embrace", you attended the annual book fair in Vilnius on Feb. 19-22. Who undertook the initiative of publishing this book for Lithuania's readers of fiction, and who invited you to come to the book fair?
Baltos Lankos in Vilnius undertook to publish it when they saw the original translation (Prisilietimas) done in Chicago in 2002 by Mackaus Fondas. It is Baltos Lankos who invited me to come to Vilnius for the fair. And I am thrilled to be going.

How long will you be in Lithuania and what do you hope to accomplish on this visit?
One week, though I'd like to stay longer, and plan to go again, when the weather is easier. My husband and sister want to come too. But for this trip, I'd like to learn about the Lithuania of today, to connect with colleagues. But most of all, I want to see Lithuania's beauty, unclouded by occupation, to feel it first-hand, rather than through imagination or stories. I'd like to know it myself.

Where could readers wishing to get the English-language version "The Embrace" obtain a copy of it?
"The Embrace" (Guernica, 1999) is available through any bookstore.