Jaunā Gaita nr. 189, novembris 1992

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JG 189

Poetry in this issue is authored by Māris Cinītis (Latvia), just 19 years old, Mārtiņš Grants (USA), Juris Zommers (Canada), Valentīns Pelēcis (USA), the late Ontons Zvidris (Canada), who writes in the dialect of Latgale, and Anrijs Punka (Latvia), who was arrested in 1983 for activities unacceptable to the Soviet regime. Both Punka and Cinītis were students in the Latvian summer program at the University of Western Michigan in 1991. There is also a poem by Ivar Ivask, in connection with his untimely death this year.

Gunars Bekmans has contributed the short story A Game of Ludo (Riču-račs), which deals with the adventures of visitors to Latvia in recent days, and includes a flashback to the last days of World War II.

Alberts Legzdiņš has written a memoir of his group's "Čikāgas Piecīši" (loosely translated as the the Quints of Chicago") tour of Latvia in the summer of 1991. Legzdiņš writes in his own inimitable saucy, irreverent and somewhat satirical style, describing the people met and mishaps avoided - and some not - on a whirlwind concert tour through the length and breadth of Latvia. Potentially unpleasant experiences and observations, such as the presence of solemn, overfed Soviet customs officers at the Riga airport and the frequent interruptions in water supplies, are touched upon obliquely and rendered amusing by Legzdiņš' style. This enjoyable piece is enhanced by some verses in the dialect of the west coast of Kurzeme, dedicated to the Piecīši by admiring Latvians (the Piecīši became popular in Latvia long before they were officially recognized there).

Four recent books are reviewed in the Books section. Juris Silenieks reviews ... But Which Truth? (... tad kādu patiesību), an anthology of poems by Andrejs Irbe which was published in Riga last year. Nature is a constant presence in Irbe's poetry, but nature is also witness to the bitter histories of the people inhabiting the pastoral landscape. Andrejs Irbe, who lives in Sweden and is a former contributing editor of Jaunā Gaita, is highly esteemed both here and in Latvia. It is expected that an anthology of his prose will be published there soon.

Without Hatred and Without Fear: Latvian prisoners of war during World War II is Auseklis' Zaļinskis' two-volume compilation of first-person testimony in the form of diaries, letters and memoirs, both written and oral, of the men who were conscripted into the Latvian divisions of the Waffen SS and who fell into the hands of the Allies when the war ended. They were interned in Germany (under the British and Americans), Russia, Italy, France, Belgium and Sweden, and were treated rather inhumanely in all these places. Indulis Kažociņš reviews the first volume, containing written testimony, diaries and sketches, as well as drawings by Amolds Šīmanis depicting the daily life of prisoners of war, and some photographs, in this issue.

By the Waters of Lethe (Veļupes krastā) is written by Melānija Vanaga and reviewed by Māra Celle. Melānija Vanaga was a journalist in pre-war Latvia, married to another journalist and mother of a small son. She was arrested and deported to Siberia with her family in 1941, though she was parted from her husband before boarding a cattle train and never saw him again. The book describes mainly the experiences of the author and her son, but the sufferings of some of the people she met are also described in vivid and horrifying detail. Vanaga was permitted to return to Latvia in 1957, but life there has also been difficult. This is the most powerful book yet written about the experiences of Latvians deported to Siberia. Vanaga finished the book in 1989 and in 1991 received a prize from the Cultural Foundation of the Republic of Latvia.

Gundars Pļavkalns concludes his review of Essays, vol. I & II by Anšlavs Eglītis. The reviewer decides that Eglītis is an erudite writer, knowledgeable in both the theory and practice of literature, but that his reviews of the work of his fellow writers in exile suffer from too much collegiality, an unwillingness to be too hard-hitting or demanding. Fortunately, Eglītis does not observe this discretion when reviewing non-Latvian writers and the cultural mayhem in the Soviet Union, especially the opportunistic literati of Soviet Latvia, and states the facts as he sees them.

Some regular features - by our contributing editors Nikolajs Bulmanis, Andrievs Ezergailis and Juris Mazutis - are omitted in this issue to make space for Raimonds Staprāns' new play Briedis-Peterss, together with introductory remarks on the play given by the author at its first reading in Seattle in July 1992. The play takes place in Moscow, in 1918, between July 22 and August 28. The main protagonists are both Latvians - Col. Fridrichs Briedis, legendary commander of the Latvian Riflemen, and Jēkabs Peterss, assistant head of the Cheka, loyal associate of Lenin and Dzerzhinsky and a ruthless Communist. The Colonel allows himself to be arrested in the hope that his Riflemen, at that time the strongest and most disciplined force guarding Lenin and his government, will rise up to free their commander and in the course of events occasion the subsequent fall of the Soviet government. Peterss realizes this and is determined to avoid it and to protect his idol Lenin. He also wants to corrupt Briedis, to remove his continuing influence on the important Riflemen. During the course of the play, Peterss discovers that he cannot corrupt Briedis, while Briedis cannot save himself - the Riflemen don't act effectively to help him. There is a romantic interest in the person of Briedis' Russian mistress Nadjezhda Manchester. The most unpleasant character in the play - as is not unusual in Staprāns' work - is a Latvian woman, a sadistic Cheka operative. The author describes the play as a "pseudo- docudrama".

Imants Zilberts (Sweden) contributed the cartoon on page 64, a commentary on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Latvia; the frontispiece is an oil painting by Eduards Dzenis (Canada), and the cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters.

Guna Blūma

Jaunā Gaita