Stasys Šaltoka: vieneri metai: romanas / Gabija Grušaitė. – Vilnius: Lapas, 2017. – 271 p.
Gabija Grušaitė, Cold East. Translated by Kipras Šumskas. – Malaysia: Clarity Publishing, 2018. – 232 pp
Prosaist Gabija Grušaitė first novel, entitled Neišsipildymas ('Unfulfillment'), came out in 2010. As a debut novel, it aimed high—the aspiration was to depict her generation (people in their twenties or slightly older at that time) living in the global and digital world. "This book will be liked by anyone who buys ecological food, spends at least three hours a day in front of the mirror, likes to take semi-nude pictures of themselves, doesn't watch TV but is a victim of Facebook, and works in something ‘artsy’ or is an accountant who wishes to be ‘artsy.’ In other words, all snobs, idiots, hippies, and yuppies, all those scattered through the streets of Milan, London, and Hong Kong in search of fulfillment, wandering through foreign lands, or those that are foreigners in their own home,’ the author wrote. The novel was received rather ambiguously and didn’t cause much of a sensation then.
Grušaitė's new novel Stasys Šaltoka speaks of her contemporaries, who are now in their thirties: the hippies and yuppies are replaced by hipsters, Facebook by Instagram, and the decade spent abroad along with the freedom of travelling has now become a sort of obligation and routine instead of a search for love and freedom itself. The second novel is more unified, slick, and better-written, with almost no textual jumps or style changes. The story is coherently told and has clear margins, the plot is logically developed, and even the certain mystical inserts (you’ll see them when you read it yourself) don't seem far-fetched and fit in well. The protagonist and the author's alter ego, Stasys Šaltoka, is born in her blog and gradually grows into an autonomous book character. The plot is simple: Šaltoka wakes up on the morning of his 29th birthday lying in his own bed in New York with a woman he doesn't know and realizes that his daily existence only looks good through Instagram filters. So now he has to decide what to do with his life—and what does a typical twenty-first century hipster caught in crisis do with their lives? Drops everything and leaves, usually to the third world.
The action of Grušaitė's novel moves from New York to Thailand, then Malaysia—where the author herself lived for several years—and eventually, Hong Kong. And so the book takes us through a one-year life chronicle of a snob suffering from inner emptiness and that of two of his friends, a Russian and a Brit. In my opinion, this novel is important as a kind of diagnosis of society, the world, and humanity. In this sense, it of course doesn’t really differ from a million other novels written for similar purposes. Every generation in the world has had such an author: for one it was Remarque, for another, Bret Easton Ellis or Douglas Coupland. To be honest, Stasys Šaltoka can also be read as a rather cynical paraphrase of Remarque’s Three Comrades.
And what makes Stasys Šaltoka different? A particular, hardly perceptible (but perceptible nevertheless) Eastern European melancholy, and practical common sense (not to be mistaken with cynicism!) accompanies the ability to see behind the mask of social media. Well, and the nice play on words and neologisms is also welcome for the reader (everyone will decide for themselves).
The author manages to illustrate the twenty-first century games that we call life—playing with surfaces and constructed virtual identities, where people don’t die but fall out of context and are immediately forgotten. Her characters are not attached to anything: they’re free of commitments and not troubled by lack of money, and their home is the entire world, or better said—everywhere is the same for them. They are consumers and fast-consumption media product producers. It’s hard to say which Lithuanian readers could relate to the novel’s characters, Stasys Šaltoka or Aleksas Lėrmontovas, but some, at least partially, definitely could.
Others will be annoyed, irritated, or even outraged by the book and just want to throw it against the wall along with all the “first world problems” it describes and instantly forget it. But we are like this, and your kids, dear older reader, are too. Language purists and various commissions dedicated to language purification might grumble when reading Stasys Šaltoka (and by “grumble” I mean the text would probably cause them to have a stroke), but I like how the author plays with language. As she lived in an English-speaking environment for many years, English words have naturally penetrated into her everyday vocabulary. It is the language used in social networks, the one that I myself use on Facebook—laconic, ironic, full of English phrases and words. Every sentence has to be accurate, clear, concise and with the maximum emotional and semantic charge. There’s no point in squandering words—who’s going to read them? The same principle is applied in the novel. And it works. Because it is not abused: where needed, the language is clean and clear.
Especially entertaining is the ironic and autoironic voice of Stasys Šaltoka, commenting on the characters’ actions and biographies (and found in brackets). Yes, Stasys Šaltoka targets the generation of thirty-year-olds, and a reader in their forties might find some things a bit weird or just not see them as a problem or a tragedy. The good thing is, universal things are also discussed in the book—searching for the meaning of life hasn’t been dismissed yet, it’s still the eternal quest. And this quest is exactly what the author undertakes. It is shielded by irony, sarcasm, and Instagram filters, but still addressed.
The review was read for the LRT CLASSIC radio show “Morning Allegro” and published on www.lrt.lt