Lithuanian Authors Feted at Book Fair | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 10.10.2002
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Lithuanian Authors Feted at Book Fair

Although it's located at the geographical centre of Europe, many still see Lithuania as part of the east. This year, Lithuania is the focal point of the world's largest book fair, which kicked off in Frankfurt Wednesday.


There is much to discover about Lithuania's literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair

The largest of the three Baltic states, Lithuania has being trying for years to reassert its place in Europe since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.

With the help of the Frankfurt Book Fair, this easily overlooked country on Europe's eastern border hopes to attract more public awareness in Western Europe to its unique literary cultural landscape.

"To be continued"

The motto "To Be Continued" is an allusion to "the frequent interruption of the development of the country by wars and occupation", according to the organisers, and is a "reflection of the intention of the presentation: to concentrate on the contemporary scene, without forgetting it’s history."

The first book in Lithuania was printed in the 16th century, but Lithuanian as a recognized literary language has only existed since 1820. Time was short for those with an interest or talent in literature – more than half the country's authors had to flee as the Russians occupied Lithuania in 1944.

Those who remained were either supporters of the communist regime or optimistic poets, who spent their literary lives under constant fear, and were careful to hide any criticism between the lines. "The most important works were written after the war, in exile", said German author Marianna Butenschön, an expert in Lithuanian literature.

A new era

The collapse of communism and Lithuania's successive independence in 1989 saw the start of a new era for Lithuanian literature. A new generation of authors appeared on the international literary stage – Lithuanian authors returned after years in exile.

In addition, numerous translated manuscripts written by these writers in the years of Lithuania's occupation underwent yet another translation – this time back into their original language.

One author who experienced these changes is Ricardas Gavelis, who published his novel Vilna Poker in 1989, a book which he had completed two years before publication.

Too much human flesh

Gavelis' book, which protested both against the Russian regime and against the supporting powers in Lithuania, was met with controversy his own home country, especially among those who felt the need to protect their former life under communism and Lithuanian traditions.

But his was not the only book published after 1989 that ignited controversy. Books which included the human body and the inner self, subjects that were for years taboo under the strict regime, were met with disgust, not least due to Lithuania's large Catholic community.

However, the country's young authors remained undeterred in their literary work. "The young authors who began writing after the fall of communism are a lot more open when it comes to dealing with tradition and set forms, and also with their own bodies," says Ausrine Jonikaite, Lithuanian coordinator at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Banned books

In 1993, 39-year-old Jurga Ivanauskaite's book Rain Witch was banned. A love story told by three women -- a modern-day bohemian outsider, a medieval witch and Mary Magdalene -- it was immediately condemned in official circles as pornography.

Jurga Ivanauskaite resolved to leave the country. Ironically, she is today one of the country's most well known writers of Lithuanian contemporary literature.

Struggling literary scene

Ivanauskaite is one of 26 Lithuanian authors taking part in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

But their presence can not hide the fact that authors from this country can still not survive from writing alone, and that Lithuania is still struggling to establish a professional literary scene. Sales are, in comparison to former communist times, low, and not one of the 300 registered authors can compete with western literature.

"Lithuania," Marianna Butenschön says, "Lithuania is a country in transition".

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