True Lithuania

Lithuanian Literature

Translated foreign literature is more popular in Lithuania than the Lithuanian one but some local "star authors" manage to write an extremely successful book now and then. For others, a small market precludes from making a decent living as very few Lithuanian books get translated in English.

Like other art, Lithuanian literature passed multiple distinct phases. It is rooted in the folk tales, some of them extremely archaic.

Until the 19th century, the folk tales/myths remained largely unwritten leaving the books to Christian religious works. Additionally, the Medieval period (13th-16th centuries) had many political chronicles, Renaissance (17th century) authors concentrated on works glorifying the nobility and "proving" its descent from the Ancient Rome, while Baroque (18th century) witnessed the appearance of drama and poetry. However, Latin and Polish were used as the main literary languages by Lithuanians of Lithuania-proper (some works are now back-translated) back then. This and dated subjects mean that few works of the era are well-known today.

The National Revival (19th century) brought Lithuanian language and national romantic topics to the Lithuanian readers, concentrating on beautiful nature, glorious Grand Duchy history and ethnic traditions. Many works were didactic in nature: promoting Catholicism, knowledge, denouncing alcoholism. The struggle for independence from the Russian Imperial rule has been another overarching topic.

After that freedom was achieved (1918) literary experimentation prevailed in many new magazines, establishing a writer as an "anticonformist" figure, mostly either a neo-romantic (seeking to unify ethnic tradition, Christianity, and modernity) or a leftist. Still, others published ideology-free "popular fiction" that also prevails today.

After the Soviet occupation (1940) the Lithuanian literature became divided into free one of Lithuanian-American refugees (continuing experiments, longing their stolen homeland) and a heavily censored one back home.

Such constant "literary upheaval" means that today's children tend to dislike literary curriculum at school simply because most of the "Lithuanian classics" seems horribly dated to them as they (even if merely 20 years old) talk about issues extremely different from the ones faced by modern youth. This is in contrast to English literature where Shakespeare may seem eternal.

Most famous Lithuanian books

Some of the famous Lithuanian literary works include:

*Folk tales such as "Eglė the Queen of Serpents".
*Kristijonas Donelaitis "Metai" ("The Year", ~1775). The first Lithuanian language fiction book, it tells (uniquely in Ancient hexameter) a story of a relationship between the peasantry and the nobility in contemporary Lithuania Minor. Translated in some 12 languages, including English. Lithuanian Minor has been the first major use of Lithuanian as a literary language.
*Maironis poetry (1895-1932). Published in many volumes and adapted into many songs the stanzas of this Catholic priest hero of Lithuanian national revival continues to inspire Lithuanians to this day.
*Balys Sruoga "Dievų miškas" ("Forest of Gods", 1945). Balys Sruoga had been imprisoned by the Nazi Germany and this is his account of concentration camp experience filled with dark humor. Some literary critics claim this would have become a worldwide bestseller had it passed the Soviet censorship on its inception date (the author died in 1947 after the Soviet occupational authorities in Lithuania denounced his book).
*Antanas Škėma "Balta Drobulė" ("White Shroud", 1958). One of the first existentialist novels in the world. However, having been written in Lithuanian language by a Lithuanian American, it failed to get necessary attention both in the Soviet occupied Lithuania (where it had been banned) and in the USA (where it has never been translated into English). Semi-autobiographical it tells a story of an intellectual Lithuanian refugee forced to work unqualified labor in New York to make a living.
*Jurga Ivanauskaitė "Ragana ir lietus" ("The Witch and Rain", 1993). The young author transposes her sexual fantasies with a Tibetan Lamma in this book describing a forbidden love between a woman and a Catholic priest. Initially banned out of the censorship inertia the book was swiftly legalized and this marked the rise of new libertarian censorship-free Lithuania (which lasted until ~2004).
*Kristina Sabaliauskaitė "Silva Rerum" (2009). A historical novel about 1600s Lithuania. Many scenes are well-researched and accurate although the morals are inspired by the present day. This became one of the most popular modern Lithuanian books.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Hallo! my name is Obid. I from Uzbekistan! I want to translate Lithuanian writer’s stories.


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