LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 46, No.2 - Summer 2000
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2000 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Antanas, No Salutes For Your Surrender (Jogaila Publications), 347 pages. $14. 95 CND.
This is an unusual book. A first novel by a 33-year old writer born in Edmonton, Alberta, it tells the story of a tormented relationship between father and son. Vince only wants to understand his father, Andrius, who left Lithuania under mysterious circumstances after the war. In Canada, Andrius met and married, Ellen, by whom he fathered Vince and his twin sister, Dana. Then, suddenly, one day, he left. Vince has little to do with his mother and sister, but father and son continue to meet weekly for lunch in an Edmonton cafe.
At one such lunch, Andrius says that it is time for him to go home. Upon his return to Lithuania, he has a stroke. This precipitates Vince's first trip to Lithuania, where he meets, for the first time, his cousins Robertus [sic] and Viktorija. After a tussle with the local medical establishment, he brings Andrius back to Canada, where he applies for legal guardianship. This leads to a ferocious battle with his twin sister Dana. Vince wins custody, but having neither the money nor the ability to care for his father, decides to take him back to Lithuania. It is an effort which Dana thwarts. Andrius remains in Canada.
Vince has always been obsessed by his father's past, so he decides to go to Lithuania anyway in search of whatever truth he can find. He picks up where he left off with his cousins, Viktorija, with whom he is falling in love, and Robertus, whom he joins in smuggling cigarettes, whiskey and eventually, gold. These adventures lead to Kęstutis, Mafia King and boyhood friend of Andrius. Finally, Vince learns about his father's past. He makes one last trip to Canada, springing Andrius from the old age home into which Dana has put him and returning him to Lithuania, a son bringing a father home, to family, country and final rest, and in marrying his cousin Viktorija, finding a measure of peace for himself.
This book tackles important subjects, the traumatized war generation, the subsequent emotional torment visited upon them and their children, the impossibility of knowing of our parents' stories, the outsized emotions that last longer than a single lifetime, choking parents and children alike, preventing them from speaking as they would. The mysteries of history and the past. This first time author grapples with big questions and big emotions.
It is not an easy book to read. The style is baroque, the emotions fierce, at times even violent, the tone raw, often caustic. It is one hundred pages too long and could have benefited from a good edit. But it has emotional drive, rhythmic pull and a sound structure. And there are moments of honesty and power.
"Fear, not skin, is the true color of immigration. " (pg. 137)
Vince, struggling with overwhelming emotions, has difficulty in seeing beyond them. During one of their smuggling adventures through Latvia, he thinks they are being followed. Robertus asks,
" 'Why they pay tribute to come all the way to Latvian territory only to watch you?' Miffed, Vince holds silent. " (pg. 265)
Later, when Vince and Robertus are trying to escape Mafia hoodlums, Robertus says,
" 'I hope God will watch over both of us, not only just you. '
... Vince did not understand the ominous remark. " (pg. 244)
Vince is a son who wants to do right by his father, to take him home, to learn his Story, to learn to love him and be loved in return. But it takes time and emotional energy to overcome one's demons, to see past one's boundaries to the wider world beyond, to come to view it with compassion and understanding. For children of history, this is a particular job. But history is also on our side in this regard. It is a history that our parents helped create, a history that we must tackle in order to understand it, ourselves, and our connection with one another.
Much needs to be written. One hopes that as this writer grows, as he learns to govern his passions and to put them in service of his art, he will continue to contribute to this emerging literature. One wishes him well.
Irena Mačiulytė Guilford