Europe makes this reading challenge harder than I could have ever imagined. Lithuania turned out to be quite a challenge. I thought a lot more Lithuanian books would have been translated, but turns out, I was wrong. I had also hoped for a book not mourning over Soviet days, but life sometimes does not turn out the way you expect it to, and this definitely applies to the reading challenge as well.
Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis digs deep into the relationship between Lithuania and Soviet during the 1970s and 1980s through the eyes of the characters in the book. It is a challenging read for someone like me, for someone who is not into reading about PSTD paranoia and hallucinatory magical realism. I am not a fan of Soviet time angst either, so unfortunately this read did not work for me.
The first, and longest, part of the book is mostly about Vytautas Vargalys, and him trying to escape his memories from the past, while seeing “them”, a group of people he has created in his own mind. He is delusional and traumatized by his past, which fair enough is not an easy one. For me as a reader I found it a distressing and dark read. Might be that I just was not in the right state of mind while reading the book, but it also felt like the plot was dragging on.
The ‘us versus them’ mentality is understandable enough, especially since the book is set during Soviet times, but the Kafkaesque reality was too intense. I did not connect at all with the characters in the book, but to be fair there is not much I have in common with these people to begin with.
I hope that more Lithuanian books will be translated soon, because I would be interested in reading about life – now and then – in Lithuania, but without the angst and Soviet. Yes, this book is tackling important issues in Lithuania’s history, but the way it is written is simply not a story I can enjoy.