A father and daughter tour Lithuania in Thorpe’s (The Girls from Corona del Mar, 2014) odd and deceptively simple family saga that spans countries and generations.
As teenagers at Exeter, Lucas and Katya, drunk on love, impulsively decided to start a family (“Let’s make a baby, baby”). The relationship collapsed soon after; Lucas and Katya spent most of their daughter’s childhood semiestranged. Seventeen years later, the trio—Lucas, Katya, and now-teenage Vera—have arrived at a sort of hesitant familial equilibrium. And then Vera has a psychotic episode—or at least, it seems that way. The doctor is certain of the bipolar diagnosis; Vera herself is sure she’s fine. Lucas, now an English professor, isn’t sure what to think, but when a flier for educational tours of Vilnius appears in his faculty mailbox—“Experience History Firsthand”—he’s sure what to do. “It was an absurd idea,” he admits, “whisking her off to a strange Eastern European vacation in the midst of a mental health crisis,” and yet the idea of a father-daughter pilgrimage to his grandmother’s homeland strikes him as restorative, even hopeful. In Vilnius, the two bond over an endless itinerary of walking tours; internally, though, they’re both lost in their own worlds: Lucas is consumed by the mystery of his grandmother’s escape from the camps, while Vera’s attention is fixed on more recent history—what happened between her parents? And—a question for both of them—what is really happening inside Vera’s mind? Switching between Lucas’ endearing narration and Vera’s ultrateenage letters home to her boyfriend, Fang, the novel weaves a strange and strangely intoxicating web of histories, both personal and geopolitical. Perhaps as a reflection of her mental instability, Vera flickers in and out of focus. The book belongs instead to Lucas; it is his personal history that gives the novel its emotional weight.
Melancholic and whimsical at once, Thorpe’s novel is bumpy, quirky, and wholly original.