Fathers and Godfathers
Tėvai ir krikštatėviai
by Pranas Treinys
This is the first book of what might be called a roman-fleuve narrrating of life in a small Lithuanian town between World War I and World War II. Some say the first book is Ančiuko kryžius (Duckling`s Cross), but I venture to disagree; it somehow “falls out of the context”, although some characters appearing in the other books are mentioned here.
Disorderly and confused like life itself, the plot is hard to describe. Anyway, in this case, it is not the plot that`s really important, it`s the style and characters. I`d say the main thing is irony and a kind of detachment, even when depicting most awful doings or events. In fact, the book is funny. The comic and often sarcastic songs sung by the ubiquitous humpback shoemaker, townspeople making witty comments on anything and everything do make you laugh. Only, according to an old Lithuanian proverb, tears follow laugh… The humpback harmonist (for the shoemaker prefers playing his harmonica and singing to making and repairing shoes) is not unlike Colas Breugnon*, and the style of the book(s) is similar to that of Colas Breugnon**, right to rhymed narrative.
The events and fates unfold locally, in the small town and the nearby villages and the mansion of an earl, actually the last earl of the mansion. Wars and revolutions and coups d’etat are just echoes here. It`s the everyday life that matters. Births and deaths, love and hate, laughter and tears, hopes and fears, cunning and stupidity of grandees and woodcutters, priests and gypsies, policemen and criminals either real or falsely accused. And lies. Always lies. All kinds of lies. Cheating others and cheating oneself, lies innocent and lies legitimatized, lies all know are lies yet pretend to believe… Hopes and dreams shattered, fortune-tellers` divinations coming true… And echoes of ancient mythology, of course.
Which brings us to the issue of the rest of the series. I doubt even the titles of the books in question could be translated properly, precisely because they have to do with Baltic mythology. Well, Paparčio žiedas is Fern Flower, which is kinda known to many nations, but Laumės juosta is likely to be translated Rainbow, which would be wrong, because it does mean rainbow yet the LT for that is "vaivorykštė", and „laumės juosta“ is the same thing but the connotation is different; as to Jievaro tiltas, the literal translation would be Sycamore Bridge, but translating it this way would be wrong altogether. Untranslatable? I`m afraid so. A great pity, that is, because, say, Faulkner is not all that much if compared to Trainys, but while the former is known worldwide, the latter seems to be forgotten even by his compatriots.
The roman-fleuve is well worth reading, and it would be really worth translating if only a translator capable of translating that properly existed. Alas...
* The Colas Breugnon type is popular with Lithuanian writers, like, for example, the carpenters and "godmakers" or "icon-daubers" depicted by Petras Cvirka in his Meisteris ir sūnūs (Master and Sons), or by Kazys Boruta in his Mediniai stebuklai (Wooden Wonders). Both books are worth reading.
** I must note the old translation into Lithuanian is done better than the translation into English. Colas Breugnon was in luck to get translated into Lithuanian back when they used to care about the quality.