Rimantas Kmita (born 1977) used to be a typical young poet. He published three collections and was thought to be ‘promising’; he got his PhD in literary studies and for a while taught in universities; he developed a reputation as a critic and reviewer. But everything changed sometime around 2013, when he first translated Der Goalie bin ig by Pedro Lenz, originally written in Swiss German dialect, into his native Šiauliai dialect. One could almost see the lightbulb going on. It’s probably unfair to see him as a ‘one-hit wonder’, but there is no denying that Pietinia kronikas (The Southerner’s Chronicles, 2016) is by far the most successful of his projects. Of course, he is also patient, hard-working and modest, and hopefully those traits will make this the beginning, and not the high point, of his career.
Pietinia kronikas (The Southerner’s Chronicles). Vilnius: Tyto alba, 2016. – 368 p.
When this novel written in the Šiauliai dialect of the Lithuanian language was first announced, a lot of people were sceptical. (When told “Honestly, I didn’t expect much from your novel,” Kmita has replied, “Everyone says that now.”) If the dialect was going to be the main attraction, it could very well have been dismissed as playing around, cheap tricks, empty antics. However, after the first twenty pages or so, you get used to the dialect and hardly notice it. Instead, the story itself fascinates. There are at least two very attractive elements in it. First, it is a great Bildungsroman. The main character and first-person narrator (who shares the name with the author and seems to be quite overtly autobiographical) is a teenage boy in a large but provincial city of Lithuania. His perspective on career choices, being cool, getting laid and falling in love (which are two different things) and on other young person issues is truly refreshing in the context of Lithuanian literature. But even more important, the depiction of the era – mid- to late nineties – is quite an innovation in Lithuanian literature, and a very successful one.