Think of it as The Matrix behind the Iron Curtain—unsettling and profoundly interesting.

VILNIUS POKER

Feverish novel about life in the closing days of Soviet-ruled Lithuania—though just who’s in charge doesn’t matter, since it’s always Them.

Gavelis (1950–2002), a physicist by profession, wrote this novel from 1979 to 1987, publishing it in that magical year 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire began its collapse; this is the first time the book has been translated into English. Gavelis’ vision, prescient in several respects and perhaps absurd in others, recalls both the alternate worlds of Stanislas Lem (and, for that matter, Richard Price) and the acerbity of Vilnius-born Csezlaw Milosz. Its protagonist/antihero, Vytautas Vargalys, has done a spell in the Gulag and been repaid for that injustice with a busywork job that pays the bills but has no meaning: He is a digital archivist in a library that no one is allowed to visit or consult. “But,” he says, “there is an ordinary world too, the real world; you always return to it, you’ll never escape it—just as you’ll never escape from Them.” Obsessed by the female form (“I was a headless stuffed dummy, a doll drowsing on a bed of dreamy breasts”), among other things, Vytautas finds it ever more difficult to distinguish reality from the hallucinogenic world that lies behind his eyes. What he is sure of, however, is that They are in charge, and the rest of his compatriots and indeed the citizens of the world have ignored Them because they are bombarded with “impressions, images, and words” that disguise the real reality, so to speak. As the narrative progresses, it becomes ever more perceptibly unhinged, paying homage to Céline and Dostoevsky as Vytautas encounters odd, dangerous people in the street who are beginning to figure things out for themselves, including one threatening character who “smells like a holy man who has murdered his own God.”

Think of it as The Matrix behind the Iron Curtain—unsettling and profoundly interesting.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-934824-05-4

Page Count: 486

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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