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Lithuanian Culture Institute

This spring, the Lithuanian Culture Institute received more applications to publish books by Lithuanian authors abroad than usual. The Institute provided almost 75 thousand euros to support as many as 26 new translations of books and 23 translations of excerpts from literary works. Another half as much is planned to be allocated in the autumn.

“It is said that actions speak louder than words, but it is through words of their respective mother tongues that literary translators accomplish actions that are simply invaluable to Lithuanian culture. Each new publication of our authors’ work abroad is primarily the result of translators’ enthusiasm and patient work, therefore we are proud to be able to support and encourage our literary translators with long-term programmes and attention,” says Aušrinė Žilinskienė, Director of the Lithuanian Culture Institute.

The Institute presents books by Lithuanian writers to translators and publishers from various countries in meetings with foreign publishers at international fairs, through arranging their business visits to Lithuania and holding seminars for translators. The translation grant programme has been running since 2001 and has already funded almost 370 translations of works by Lithuanian authors into more than 30 world languages. Let us take a look at what Lithuanian books will reach foreign readers in the near future.

Lithuanian bestsellers reach increasingly more readers abroad

The works of Lithuanian authors that have been most successfully received abroad continue to find their way to foreign readers. The immortal classic Vilniaus pokeris (Vilnius Poker) by Ričardas Gavelis will be published in Ukraine, and Undinė Radzevičiūtė’s novel Žuvys ir drakonai (Fishes and Dragons), which has already travelled Europe, will see the light in Croatian. Russian readers will finally be able to hold Jurga Ivanauskaitė’s novel Ragana ir lietus (The Witch and the Rain) translated into Russian, the first book by the author to appear in that language.

Marija Bacevičiūtė, a translator of Kristina Sabaliauskaitė’s new bestseller Petro imperatorė (Peter’s Empress), intends to pitch the translation to French publishing houses. Marija, who is translating an excerpt from the novel, believes that Sabaliauskaitė’s work will undoubtedly attract the attention of French readers. “The French are very interested in the past epochs, especially in the society of that time and its intrigues. The 17th-18th centuries and the Russian Empire fascinate many, and this novel touches on little-covered topics, so I believe that this story about the Lithuanian noblewoman Marta Skowronska who became the wife of Tsar Peter I and the Russian Empress Catherine I will absolutely win over French readers,” shares translator Marija Bacevičiūtė.

Rasa Aškinytė’s book Glesum received particular attention from publishers. The story of Glesum, a woman from the Aistian tribe, is currently being translated into two languages. In Germany, the novel will be published by Mitteldeutscher Verlag, the publisher of Alvydas Šlepikas and Rimantas Kmita, and in Latvia by Jānis Roze, one of the oldest publishers in the country.

The fourth collection of Lithuanian poetry is being published in Italy

Poems by poets Antanas A. Jonynas and Greta Ambrazaitė are currently being translated into Polish, while poems by the literary classic Maironis are being translated into Italian. Very soon another 19 Lithuanian poets will speak in Italian, as Pietro U. Dini, a well-known translator in Lithuania and professor of Baltic studies, has compiled and translated into Italian a new anthology of contemporary Lithuanian poetry. The new selected poems present works by Jurgita Jasponytė, Aušra Kaziliūnaitė, Mindaugas Nastaravičius, Ernestas Noreika and other poets.

Pietro U. Dini says there is no single reliable way to compile an anthology. The professor selected the poets taking into account the specialists and readers’ reviews and the poets’ recognition with prizes. This is the fourth collection of Lithuanian poetry compiled and translated by Pietro U. Dini.

The anthology was meant to be presented at the Vincenzo Literature Festival as early as this spring, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival, along with all the events, has been postponed to late autumn.

Translators convey extreme Lithuanian experiences

More and more foreign publishers are interested in the Lithuanian experiences of the Holocaust, deportation, the war in Afghanistan and the Soviet oppression. The international success of Alvydas Šlepikas’ book Mano vardas Marytė (In the Shadow of Wolves) attests to that. The book has not only been translated into the world’s major languages but has also received exceptional acclaim in the UK and Germany. Dalia Grinkevičiūtė’s memoir Lietuviai prie Laptevo jūros (Lithuanians by the Laptev Sea) has also been travelling around the world. Like Alvydas Šlepikas’ novel, Grinkevičiūtė’s book also began its successful career in Germany, where it surpassed in popularity the biographies of Václav Havel and the Klitschko brothers.

The Lithuanian Culture Institute has in the past funded the translation of Dalia Grinkevičiūtė’s memoir into English, German, Dutch, Polish, Finnish, French and Spanish. The new translation into Serbian will be its eighth publication abroad. Despite this impressive record, Croatian Mirjana Bračko, who is translating the memoir of exile into Serbian, is convinced that there should be more publications of this book. “Grinkevičiūtė’s work could be of great interest not only for Serbian readers but all over the world because it reveals a difficult period in the history of Lithuania about which little is known elsewhere. How terrible people have suffered, how hard and terrible it was to live in the Soviet Union – this must be communicated to everyone in the world so that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

The autobiographical book Kaip tampama albinosais (Becoming albinos) by Afghan war veteran Zigmas Stankus will be published in Poland. The Swedish translation of this book proved to be very popular – the 6,000-copy edition was sold out in just one month.

The book of conversations between Tomas Venclova and Elena Hinsey Nelyginant šiaurė magnetą (Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova), revealing not only the writer’s biography and work but also a wide cultural and political context and personal reflections on the atmosphere in the Soviet period, will be published in Russia. A memoir of Markas Petuchauskas, a Holocaust survivor, entitled Santarvės kaina (Price of Concord), will also appear in Russian.

The legacy of Leonid Donskis is the first translation of Aleksandras Štromas into Polish

Kamil Pecela, a literary translator who has received a certificate of recognition from the Lithuanian Culture Institute for professionalism and productivity, is setting off on fulfilling his dream of translating Laisvės horizontai (Horizons of Freedom) by the dissident and political scientist Aleksandras Štromas into Polish. The translator says that he learned about Štromas from the late philosopher Leonidas Donskis, whose personality and books left a strong imprint on Pecela: “Donskis’ personality and books strongly influenced me. Only thanks to him did I learn about Štromas,  whom Donskis held in high regard. Aleksandras Štromas was a very interesting person whose biography reflects the entire history of the twentieth century. As a critic of totalitarianism and a proponent of democracy and freedom, he is still relevant today. In my opinion, his biography and works are very important for learning the history of Lithuania, which is still something that remains to be done in Poland,” Kamil Pecela shares his thoughts on Aleksandras Štromas and his delight at securing the support by the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Poland, which will enable him to fulfil his dream of introducing Aleksandras Štromas to Polish readers.

Publishers from other countries are also interested in Lithuanian non-fiction. Gintaras Beresnevičius’ study on the concept of the afterlife in the old Lithuanian worldview entitled Dausos (Heaven) will be published in Italy. A book on contemporary Lithuanian theatre compiled by Ramunė Marcinkevičiūtė and Ramunė Balevičiūtė will be published in China, where Lithuania is known as a country of performing arts.

 The children of the world are growing up with the best Lithuanian books

Polish readers will soon be able to enjoy Jurga Vilė and Lina Itagaki’s graphic novel Sibiro haiku (Siberian Haiku), which has been very popular abroad. With the Institute’s support, the book has already been translated and published in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Latvia, and is being translated into two other foreign languages: Romanian and German.

The story Drebantis riteris (The Shaky Knight) by Kęstutis Kasparavičius, the entire world’s children’s book author, will be published in Croatian. Mirjana Bračko, who is translating this book, has no doubt that readers will be delighted to welcome this story by Kasparavičius’, who is very popular in Croatia. “I have no doubt that The Shaky Knight will be very well received by Croatian children. Kęstutis has visited Croatia several times, the publishing house has organised his book presentations, readings and workshops in different Croatian cities, and the author always gets on very well with the children and draws with them. Kęstutis was to come again in May this year, but unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the trip became impossible,” says Bračko, translator of Kęstutis Kasparavičius.

Macedonian children will soon be able to hold Tomas Dirgėla’s Lukas Šiaudelis deda iš viršaus (Lukas Šiaudelis Slum Dunks), while Mongolian kids will soon be reading Vytautas V. Landsbergis’ book Arklio Dominyko meilė (The Love of Horse Dominicus). The picture books Riešutortas and Baubaimė by Benas Bėrantas and Vilija Kvieskaitė will be published in Ukraine.

What literary translations do translators foresee in the future?

Translated excerpts from literary works are used by translators and the Lithuanian Culture Institute to acquaint foreign publishers with new Lithuanian literature. If fortune smiles, excerpts turn into book translations. This year, translators are particularly interested in Undinė Radzevičiūtė’s latest novel Grožio ir blogio biblioteka (The Library of Beauty and Evil), Jurga Tumasonytė’s Undinės (Mermaids), the already mentioned Kristina Sabaliauskaitė’s Peter’s Empress and Gražina Sviderskytė’s documentary story Lituanica. Nematoma pusė (Lituanica. The invisible side).

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, international book fairs are being cancelled or moved to virtual space, which forces the Institute to rethink and improve its usual ways of finding publishers. The Institute’s staff participate in virtual meetings, update information on international databases, as well as discuss new translation grants schemes. “Even if Vilnius Book Fair turns out to have been the only IRL book fair in Europe this year, and if the fairs scheduled for autumn, including the world’s largest Frankfurt Book Fair, get cancelled, the need for good literature and its translations in the face of crisis is evident and this inspires us to try to reach foreign publishers and promote to them books by Lithuanian authors in all possible and impossible ways,” Aušrinė Žilinskienė shares her hopes.