If you’re in Chicago on the evening of May 25, 2010, head on down to the 57th Street Books to hear my friends Laimonas Briedis and Elizabeth Novickas speak about their work. They’re both brilliant and charismatic.
Translating Vilnius – Elizabeth Novickas & Laimonas Briedis
Tue, 05/25/2010 – 6:00pm
57th Street Books
1301 E. 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637
The city of Vilnius — Chicago’s sister-city — embraces history with many voices: known in Yiddish as Vilne, in Polish as Wilno, in Russian as Vilna, and in German as Wilna, the capital of Lithuania possesses a polyphony of national identities and cultural resonances. No single history or language can embrace this multitude of identities, for each name resonates with different experiences, memories, and expectations of Europe. As such, the city both unites and divides the continent, making it a point of many departures and arrivals. Writing Vilnius, then, is always about narrative crossings, real or imagined trespasses into foreign territories and unknown worlds. As a result, Vilnius’s literature is first and foremost an act of translation, an exploration of the place from a novel point of view.
Laimonas Briedis, author of Vilnius: City of Strangers, and Elizabeth Novickas, translator of Ričardas Gavelis’ Vilnius Poker, discuss the challenges, pleasures, and discoveries of translating the story of Vilnius.
Written as a traveler’s tale of encounter, Vilnius: City of Strangers, is the first biography of the city, exploring the history of the place, from its legendary beginnings in the fourteenth century to the twentieth century dramas of wars, revolutions and massacres, through the insightful impressions of foreign travelers.
Napoleon, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Döblin, Tolstoy, Bakhtin and Brodsky: these voices – among others equally compelling though lesser known – reveal the essence of Europe in their narrative encounter with this threshold city, situated at the geographical centre of Europe. Briedis has woven their letters, diaries, utterances and reflections of Vilnius into a compelling and intimate story, and shares with the reader a deep understanding of the Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and German identities of the place, as well as its centrality in the life of Jewish diaspora.
Ričardas Gavelis’ Vilnius Poker, included in the long list for Best Translated Book Award of 2010, presents Lithuanian Vilnius as it existed under Soviet rule. In its pages the city of Vilnius emerges as a mysterious, shifting, sentient presence, inhabited by gray beings whose brains have been destroyed: a city of underground labyrinths, morgues, and lurking dragons. The story weaves together a multiplicity of the voices of Vilnius, a place of floating, unstable identities and histories, and paradoxically fixing a portrait of the city as it was – or never was – in “a forceful statement that is on its way towards becoming a touchstone of 20th century literature.” (Andrew Wessels, Bookslut.com)
Laimonas Briedis, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, received his doctorate from the University of British Columbia and is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Lithuanian Literature Institute.
Elizabeth Novickas has a M.A. in Lithuanian Language and Literature from UIC. She has worked previously as a bookbinder, newspaper designer, cartographer, and system administrator for the Chicago Sun-Times.