»You cannot escape Vilnius«. This core sentence from Ricardas Gavelis’s best known novel, »Vilniaus pokeris«, published in 1989 and the cause of much controversy and discussion, could stand as a motto above the literary output of the Lithuanian narrative writer, dramatist and political and social commentator. Born in Vilnius in 1950 and where he still lives today, Gavelis studied physics and later became editor with the journal »Science and Life« until he began, on a freelance basis, to write stories, novels, dramas and screenplays. Since his first narrative work, »A Party that has not yet begun« (1976) he completed four collections of stories and six novels. He also worked as a journalist for the magazine »Respublika«.
The capital of Lithuania features repeatedly in Gavelis’s recent works as symbol of an existence controlled by dark mafia powers from which there is no escape for the helpless heroes of the stories: »Demonic, destructive powers keep them imprisoned. Vilnius is more powerful than they are and is omnipresent«. The problems of Lithuanian society, now torn apart into an impoverished majority and a corrupt, niveau rich upper class, are described by Gavelis with a mixture of dramatic realism and surreal action. His narrative tells of people who are having the spiritual, emotional and financial foundation of their lives taken away, as, for example, is the case with the literature teacher Aurelius in the story »Ein Wilnaer Arhat«. His talents have no longer any use in the new society ruled by young, money-hungry millionaires, a situation which drives him to the edge of suicide: »If you become completely indifferent to yourself, then you no longer exist.«
»Taikos Balandis« (1995; t: Peace dove) is the title of the last work of Gavelis to be translated into German, from which the above story comes, and can, therefore – as the author informs us in the foreword – only be meant in a sad, sarcastic way. For there is »no harmony among the lilac trees of Vilnius. Their metaphysical love is transformed into a fictitious crime. There dogs write bloody diaries. […] And all this beneath the ghostly looks of the town’s doves, the messengers of peace of whom none is«. Such a lame, half-decayed dove, spattered in excrement, is lying in wait for the narrator in front of the entrance to the latter’s house on a sultry summer’s day. This is the »peace dove« which gives the collection its title. From this point it follows him in an aggressive manner. As if in some delusion, the protagonist sees in this animal the final dirty trick of his arch enemy, Rugaitis, a one-time official and occupant of one of the villas who had messed him about all his life. In an act of murderous self-defence he tears the animal to pieces. Shortly after that, and as if in a dream, he finds himself being arrested by the police for murder – for having murdered Rugaitis. Where life consists of negative emotions, suppression, persecution, exploitation and violence, there remains for Gavelis’s characters nothing but escape; into counter-violence, as in »Peace Dove«, into the philosophical self-delusion as in »Wilnaer Arhat« or into the realm of dreams and metaphysical visions. And even then one cannot be certain to have escaped Vilnius…
Gavelis’s works have been translated into English, Latvian, Polish, Finnish and German, among other languages. The writer passed away on August 18, 2002.
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