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BEES ON THE SNOW by Saulius Šaltenis


by Saulius Šaltenis ; translated by Elizabeth Novickas

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-9966304-5-0
Publisher: Pica Pica Press

Lithuanian writer Šaltenis’ 1990 novel about a small-town pastor’s death is available in English for the first time.

On a frigid Christmas night in Lithuania at some point in the distant past, the pastor Kristijonas goes missing. When he’s located the next day, he’s lying among the animals in his own manger, nearly frozen to death; some people say that he was trying to preach the Gospel to the livestock. When the man dies a few days later, the circumstances surrounding his demise remain unclear. As a funeral is prepared, the life of Kristijonas is revealed through his past interactions with the colorful villagers who lived around him, including Karvelis, the former herdsman and current church bell ringer, who loved the pastor but fears encountering him as a ghost, as “he had, after all, sinned heavily against the late Kristijonas”—and, it’s revealed, others as well. Another villager is Lotė the Betrothed, who never married, and her son, Jonelis, whom Kristijonas once said had the makings of a bishop. There’s also Fingerless Limba, the local schoolteacher and undertaker, whose missing appendages are the cause (and result) of controversy. Through these and other characters, a loving, self-effacing portrait of rural Lithuania emerges. Šaltenis’ prose, as translated by Novickas, is formal but riotous in tone: “So then, when Mr. Kristijonas was still but a crowing baby, the plague arrived, neither sought nor summoned, and went reeling through the villages without missing a single cottage, unbending, proud, all buttoned up like a minor court official.” As the author wrote the work toward the end of the Soviet period in Lithuania, the book can be read as a reaction to that occupation—especially as, in the novel, the country faces a similar threat from Germans. For readers without a sense of Lithuanian history, however, it reads more like an off-kilter pastiche of preindustrial life. It’s a short book, and it may take the reader some time to acclimate to its peculiar rhythms, but the wide assortment of intersecting lives and disputed histories makes for an amusing puzzle.

A dense and surprising tale from an acclaimed Lithuanian author.