Why not support a Lithuanian Author while reading an excellent Book?
Learn more about Lithuanian-American Author Karolis Gintaras Zukauskas (pen name Gint Aras) below in an exclusive ILF interview with the author.
1.) How did you begin writing, was the passion with you since childhood, or did it develop in you later in life?
It was there since childhood.
I was always very interested in stories. Among my most important memories are the stories my grandfather would tell in his calm, baritone voice, now before bedtime, later in a fishing boat, the sun setting behind us, our eyes affixed on bobbers. Some of them were fiction, but he told me stories of his flight from the old country, his life in the UNRRA camps and more.
I must have been seven or eight when he told me that I tried writing before I even knew the alphabet. I’d sit on a stair and draw lines of squiggles on a sheet of paper, then bring him the “text,” ask him to “read” it back to me. “What’s this story about?” I’d say it’s about a bear trying to forage for honey or a boy who wants to catch a big fish. He’d “read” that story to me, obviously making it up himself, but playing along, letting me claim it was “mine”.
Writing isn’t an activity to me. It’s a way of seeing the world, both a lens and a practice. It’s a state of constant focus and analysis crossed with dreaminess and wonder. It’s a kind of listening, and impulse to reorganize, reorder, retell. I’ve had it since I can remember.
2.) How much (if any) has growing up Lithuanian had on your writing style?
I wouldn’t be able to say that it’s affected my style. However, it has affected my content. I suppose content and style affect each other reciprocally. But I feel my writing style is affected much more by the books I’ve read than the experiences I’ve had.
Those experiences affect content directly. I write about universal themes like love and death. My treatment of them is informed by stories of loss that certainly arose from a childhood in Chicago, among migrants, refugees and displaced persons. I also write about the difference between memory and imagination, which to me has always been a fuzzy barrier, one clouded further by the experience of trauma, the kind that accompanies flight, departure, displacement, loss, war, abuse, etcetera.
Also constant in my writing is the theme of disappearance, of absence, of an entire everything that can be wiped clean without anyone left to remember it. I recently became aware of the complicated psycho-social roots of this theme.
I grew up during the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war was real, and also when Lithuania did not exist as an independent state. There was fear, both implied and spoken among my elders, that one day we might all die out. No one else “knew” who we were and we “weren’t on the map,” so in those ways we were already failing to exist, if existence requires one to inhabit someone else’s mind. The antidote to this is to “maintain” and “share” culture, or at least the aspects of culture you believe are worth maintaining. That fear of failing to exist—in the manner you wish to exist—influences what characters end up in my stories.
Obviously, this is a deep well of clean water but also unfathomable darkness. There is no such thing as a culture of pure victims, of people who were always threatened and persecuted while threatening and persecuting no one. Lithuania has a history of 1000 years, and there is more than one blemish in the record, to speak softly. In my teens, I woke up to what a manicured and sentimentalized version of Lithuanian identity I had been handed in my youth. I found it odd that we feared the eraser above our heads but had no problem with the one in our hands. We had no problem pointing out atrocities committed by others but locked our own up in trunks.
Because of this, my writing is also about denial, censorship, control, deception, myth and other methods we have of constructing identity for ourselves while distracting the mind from facing our record’s blemishes.
3.) You discussed in an interview with Amy Danzer, the concept of no supporting players in your novel The Fugue, that though a birds’ eye view, we play equal parts, and that idea you brought to your novel. Could you elaborate on this concept for our audience?
This is a response to Amy’s curiosity…how did I come to structure a novel—one that’s rather long—according to the principles of a musical fugue. Why did I make such a decision?
A fugue is a composition in which two or more voices run alongside each other. At one point early in my novel, a character thinks about them this way:
Lita knew what a fugue was, a composition of usually two strands—voices—of music that borrowed short melodies and phrases from each other. It was like a game where melodies played side-by-side and pretended to be each other, or sometimes even became one another. They could weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.
A fugue presents challenges to the player and the listener. It’s an experience of simultaneity, and the beauty of a fugue does not really come from the quality of a theme; instead, it comes from how themes, playing simultaneously, relate to one another. A fugue is an expression of constant interdependence.
To me, fugues became metaphors for the interplay between people. It’s a delusion, and a dangerous one, to think of the human story, the moments we share in any moment, as narratives with primary players and supporting ones. When you look at the story from above, the way a bird would, there’s obviously no supporting player. Everyone is their own universe, their own voice, their own complete system, and yet we are all in constant interplay with systems just as complete as we are. Life is an unfathomable composition, unfolding like a fugue. To see it that way was disarming, and I wondered if it could be possible to express this perception in a novel.
4.) You’ve mentioned how important setting is to a story. When developing a story, as you see the events unfolding in your mind’s eye, do you conceptualize them in diverse settings?
This is one of the most challenging questions I’ve ever been asked.
I’m very interested in what changes when we move in space. A lot of writers worry about how the room changes when it’s experienced by a different character. I’m interested in both, in how the character changes the room and also in how the room changes the character.
It’s no secret that people who travel and speak multiple languages have more flexible minds. They also have larger context to face conflicts or solve problems. Curiously, one needs to have a certain kind of flexibility in order to desire travel and language in the first place. You have to be comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing exactly how things are going to unfold. Really, what you need is to see “comfort” for what it is: a delusion. In truth we are constantly replacing ourselves.
Placing a character is of enormous importance to me as an artist. I do play games, wondering how such and such a character would behave, what her possibilities would be, in Havana, Cuba versus Panama City, Florida. Really, I play that game with myself first. It’s why I travel. How am I different following my trip to Bydgoszcz, Poland? How did I describe it on the first day and how would I do it now that I’ve been away for a few years? How does my trip to Bydgoszcz affect how I respond to overheard conversations about Poland or Polish food, or a train ride from Berlin to Vilnius, or whatever?
Obviously, I’ve learned you don’t need to go very far to do this. How does our concept of “self” change when we face a job interview versus a drink with a friend? The difference is dramatic. My writing is partially about that fluidity of the self, about the construct of identity. It’s revealed to us when we pay attention to how we change when we move around.
5.) What drives you to write?
It’s something like an obsession or a compulsion. I wrote for years when I had no audience, and I started when I was a kid. I used to write to have a universe I could escape to, one I could control entirely. That was a juvenile but necessary way to go about it. Now I write because I need to let things go. When I was younger, writing used to feel like putting up fences. Now it feels like opening a gate. I used to build cages where I planted eggs. Now I feel I’m releasing birds into the wild.
6.) We ask all of our guests at www.iamlietuva.com the same final two questions. What does Lietuvybe, or being Lithuanian mean to you?
Being Lithuanian in America offered me a vantage point from which I eventually grew and evolved to imagine myself a global citizen. What I mean is that the policies of isolationism and the point of view that sees America as exceptional and God’s best friend with a gun didn’t work on me. When I came to Vilnius at age 19, read the city’s history, realized how complicated the place was, it was liberating, and I started to see the entire world not as a set of teams behind borders but an ever-shifting, ever-changing interplay. Realizing how different Lithuania was from the story I’d been told drove my curiosity through the stratosphere. I started traveling, opening myself up to the stories and ideas of people different from myself. Vilnius was my gateway drug to global consciousness.
7.) We ask everyone the food question because many in our audience do not speak the Lithuanian language, but still feel a tie to our shared heritage through their remembrances of special Lithuanian meals. Do you have a favorite Lithuanian dish?
Čeburėkas su sultiniu. If I lived across the street from a čeburėkinė, I’d eat them every day. This is fried dough stuffed with lamb and onions, served with a broth. During Soviet times, little places that served this were everywhere. Now they’re harder to find, but I always make a point to eat this when I visit.
8.) Could you please share with our audience how and where they can purchase your books? Could you please share your website and social media information?
My website, Liquid Ink, is http://gint-aras.com
My books, Finding the Moon in Sugar and The Fugue are available anywhere books are sold. Most independent stores will need to order them. You can also get them online, via Amazon or your Kindle store. If you live in the United States, the Book Table in Oak Park, Illinois, will ship either book to your home.