Noirish mystery of a lost manuscript in a post-Soviet Lithuania, a country where poetry once made a difference.
“The old town has grown out of nature; it bends to the shape of the rivers that run through it, it listens to the shape of the hills. It winds and flows and hugs the earth as though it were lichen, a beautiful moss spread across an ancient log.” An aging writer, Steponas Daumantas, who can no longer write spends his time reading old poets and wandering his bizarre city, Vilnius, still reeling from decades of occupation, to indulge an obsession with photographing Russian girls. What will happen when one of them turns out to be a pretty young mother in need of help—straight to the typewriter! Jolanta is married, it turns out, but no matter, Steponas is more than happy to read her husband’s budding manuscript—he’s a writer, too—but promptly loses it at a cafe and like that old lovely city, something crucial is lost. How to get it back? Steponas eventually finds himself on the trail of the book, but the man who has it wants a hundred dollars for it, and when Jolanta shows up with a bruise it all starts to feel like noir with a smart subtle subtheme of a country losing its sense of aesthetic in favor of a fledgling mob-style capitalism. We then shift to Svetlana, a young woman navigating Vilnius’s seedy underworld of prostitution and violent men, for whom hope takes the form of a gold ring—and also that manuscript, which she might have to sell herself to get. The themes here must take us back in time—in a move that is perhaps as clunky as it is absolutely necessary—to the occupation and the atrocities from which all these shady deals have sprung. There’s plenty of skeletons in Lithuania’s closet, not to mention graves, and without going back to that era when poetry roused the soul, how will Steponas ever be able to return to “my writing. Digging. Digging away at the layers of soil. Clearing the ground.”
Post-Soviet absurdity and a unflinching history rendered in effective prose.