Narratives of War in Lithuanian Diaspora Women’s Writing

Žydronė Kolevinskienė (Vytautas Magnus University)

WWII, the Soviet occupation and the tragic post-war years are the themes contemplated in literatures of Central European countries and languages, including Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Polish. At the end of WWII, two thirds of Lithuanian writers fled west. As a result, Lithuanian postwar literature (1945-1958) written in exile is more prolific and richer in its representations of WWII, and its aftermath, the loss of the native land and the coming of the “red plague.”

The presentation focuses on several Lithuanian language literary works published in Chicago, USA by the authors of the DP generation: Nelė Mazalaitė’s (1907-1993) novel The Harvest Time (1956), Birutė Pūkelevičiūtė’s (1923-2007) novels Eight Leaves (1956) and The Ninth Leaf (1982) as well as the poem in prose Autumn of Revelation (1990). The novels selected for the analysis are some of the very few narratives that thoroughly and unflinchingly represent the full range of Lithuanian women’s war and migration experiences from the female perspective. Two different generations of women writers stand out for their artistic rendering of distinctively female experience during particularly difficult circumstances and political, social and cultural upheaval. Mazalaitė’s and Pūkelevičiūtė’s texts vividly convey the war and its aftermath through biblical motives of the Apocalypse. The appearance of the Angels of the Apocalypse in the works by both authors is associated first of all with the betrayal and guilt. By shedding their traumatic experiences, the women portrayed in these novels transcend stereotypical images of femininity.

The theoretical underpinnings of the presentation can be found in the postcolonial theory and feminist criticism. A postcolonial and feminist reading of these novels reveals the heroines’ need to create false identities by donning different masks. The presentation argues that the individual traumatic experience turns into collective traumatic memory.