Shtetl Love Song by Grigory Kanovich










Shtetl Love song by Grigory kanovich

Lithuanian fiction

Original title – Местечковый романс

Translator – Yisrael Elliot Cohen

Source – review copy

I reviewed the first book from the new publisher Noir press Breathing into Marble which I enjoyed. this their latest book from Lithuanian is a true gem of a book. Grigory Kanovich is a well know poet and writer. He currently lives in Israel and before he emigrated there was the head of the Jewish community of Lithuania. He also served as a people’s deputy during Soviet times. Born into a tailoring Jewish family of the Shtetl community if Jews in Lithuania before world war two. what he brings in this book is the lost world of his family and their friends. 95% of Shtetl jews died during world war two when Germany invaded.

For a long time I have intend to write about my mother with that joyous enthusiasm and the kind of abundant detail with which it is fitting to recall one’s parents, the people closest and dearest to you. But to my great shame, for one reason or another, i have kept putting it off.Or, if I have started, then I have written nothing more than casual scraps, limiting myself to separate episodes that dealt with my relatives and the other people from my hometown. Wanting to somehow soften my feeling of guilt, I began to recall things, conjuring up memories even when I was sleeping, However the following morning I would mercilessly erase the words that has seemed so appropriate the night before

Grigory explains his struggle with this book he want to honour his mum and home town.

The book starts with Grigory saying he had long wanted to tell the story of his mother and family in pre war Lithuania in those years before he turned twelve and they had to leave and returned later to a changed country. I saw somewhere that said the Grigory was maybe the only person that could bring this world to us as readers as so few people are left alive from that time.. This follows his father and grandfather and their spouses Mama and Dovid ,Grandma Rokha as they leave their home and head to Lithuania after the end of another war to first Vilnius and then on to the home town of Jonava. What follows is the history of the following years of the family as they grow into village ,life but also stat planting roots which we see his mother Hennie settle and explain the village around them the rabbis, traders and characters. This is a description of a world long gone but also a family history a view of the world they live in which at the time was one where their is big changes as the country they live in Lithuania that had just become a country but is also trying to stay a country and not get eaten up by either of the two large powers that are  nearby the Soviet and German regimes have their eyes on the country.

Wake up. Hirshele! Wake up, my golden one! today it’s an important holiday. Pesach! Passover! I’m going to take you today, my little dove, to the synagogue for the first time. To the Beit Knesset Hagadol .

“Where?” my eye. still not unstick from my sweet sleep expressed nothing but fear.

“To the great synagogue. You’ve never been before.Each day Gotenu, our dear god, decends from heaven to there. We will be pray together and thank our protector and Benefactor for delivering us from Egypt thousands of years ago and liberating us from the Pharohs.

I love and fear going place like this with my grandmother at times.

I have read a lot of lit about the war and Jewish life , but there isn’t many books  out there that touch this book for the way it captures the day-to-day family life As many of you know I am a huge fan of those books that capture village small town life and this is what this does . But also the black humour the jewish community is well-known for shine through at times that saw their world change. The action is in the pre war period but the sense of the wider world invading the small is evident as the family goes on but their world will be for ever changed. Grigory has written all his life about the Litvak community of Lithuania. This is his most personal book and the last he has written so far, it won a number of prizes including the Lithuania National prize. I loved the small boy on the cover he capture this world so well in a way.


Breathing into Marble by Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite


Cover +1

Breathing into Marble by Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite

Lithuanian Fiction

Original title – Kvėpavimas į marmurą

Translator – Marija Marcinkute

Source – review copy

As I said yesterday in my wrap up there was three new publishers last month and here is another Noir press is a new small press focusing on Baltic fiction. They contact me and said This may be perfect as my first book from Lithuania as I had yet to review a book from there. Laura is a prize winning writer this book won the EU prize for lit .She studied Lithuanian become a Journalist and then a writer she has had a number of books published and translated into a number of languages this is her first to be into English and the first by a living Lithuania writer to be translated to English.

HIS EYES wer brwn, with irises that seemed as thick as steel- they had none of the softness that would be characteristic of a child.When Isabel was taken to the group, they all simultaneously turned towards the door and a hush fell upon them. Isabel froze in deadly silence, pierced by fifteen pairs of starring eyes. And the a ripple out from the corner, a short, slight stir as the boy pressed his tiny fists into his mounth and his eyes flashed.Hardness was probably his most distinctive quality

She meets Ilya for the first time maybe she saw more than she realised in his eyes there

Breathing into marble is a story of family Isabel , who has a son Gailus , but this lad is suffering from Seizures which are  getting worse, the family are trying the best for him. The Isabel meets an orphan Ilya whom she decides they are going to adopt to help their son and also give him some company.This new arrival to use the old saying is like setting a cat amoung the pigeons and he is trouble he wrecks this quiet families life .What we see is the ripple effect of his arrival on how people get effect by one event .The mother and father trying to maybe replace the faulty child with a new one but he isn’t no this six year cause a rift and doesn’t take to his new step brother .

Galius had never met a person who took up so little space “Its like ILya always trying to become smaller ” he said to Isabel .He behaved as though he was not two but ten years older than his brother. He would not complain to his mother when things began disappearing from the drawers of his desk – pencils and his Tragi-comical everyday reflections – what he called the pieces of paper with his scribblings on them.

The two brothers meet and the older orignal son observes something about his step brother .

This is a tough one to describe in her winning interview about this book for the EU lit prize she notes the books isn’t plot driven its a book of psychology of the human soul she says it is to see how people react to one event the event here is a death at the heart of the story that turns the wife and husbands world upside down . This is like a lot of new fiction around europe about famlies in the worst points , I felt a connection to The Boy which I reviewed last year another novel dealing with the fallout of a child’s death. This also seems to be part of a group of writers In Lithuania writing Noir fiction another influence I felt is Simenon roman Durs novels those psychological novels he wrote about the darker side of human nature at times and how we all react in certain situations . This is a dark look into ome couples past and secrets they had to bury many years ago , death and recovering or trying to recover from it .


November 2018
« Oct    
%d bloggers like this: