Friday, April 15, 2011

Underground: A Novel by Antanas Sileika

Underground: A Novel by Antanas Sileika is a complicated love story inspired by true events that takes place in Lithuania during the 1940s as the underground resistance fights the communist takeover. At the centre of the novel is Lukas and Elena, both members of the resistance who have a past full of tragedy and a future that doesn't look very promising either. When Lukas and Elena shoot up a room full of Soviet officials during their engagement party they are forced into hiding in order to avoid punishment. Their bunker is discovered and while Lukas escapes imprisonment he believes that Elena has been killed in the raid. Lukas flees Lithuania in an attempt to gain support for the resistance internationally, and eventually finds himself in Paris with a new wife. The bliss is short-lived however, when a crisis and news that Elena may still be alive forces Lukas back to his home country as he embarks on yet another fight for his life.

Considering how well the portion of history this novel covers has been pushed underground, it was a bit odd that is the second book I have read on the topic in 2011. Earlier this year I read the young adult novel Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys which follows a girl who was sent to Siberia, a fate shared by many Lithuanians and which is also mentioned in Underground although Sileika's focus is on what happened to Lithuanians left behind in a country they could no longer call their own.

I found the summary of Underground to be quite misleading, as most of the events discussed in order to hook the reader into the story don't actually take place into fairly far into the novel and a decent chunk of the story is instead dedicated to how Lukas and his brother came to join the resistance as well as what it was like for them once they did. I find this portion of the novel really interesting, as Sileika clearly shows the changes a person needs to make in order to survive in such a situation, and what happens when they are not able to make them. That said, the beginning was definitely at a slower pace than the second half of the novel and it is definitely the short portion of the novel following Lukas' attempt to return to Lithuania which has the biggest thrill to it.

Sileika's writing was inconsistent for me, while there were portions which were quite straightforward and direct there were other portions which were equally poetic and lyrical. Often I felt the dialogue didn't flow well and created a distance between the character and the reader. That said, there is incredible stark imagery present throughout Underground which was definitely my favourite aspect of Sileika's writing and included statements like:
"The new rulers were barbers, who sat you down in the chair and promised a trim but kept on clipping and clipping all the way down to the scalp, and when it looked as if there was nothing left to cut, you saw them eyeing the straight razor and you shuddered to think what might be coming next."
I was actually quite surprised by the ending of the book, in a good way, and the final chapter of the novel ties up all the loose ends very nicely. I did think it was a little rushed, but Underground is definitely a novel where the majority of the action is focused near the end. Although both the pace and the writing were sometimes inconsistent in Underground, the moments of poetry and incredible insight into a forgotten part of history result in an interesting and worthwhile novel by Sileika.

Release Date: February 26th, 2011
Pages: 300
Buy the Book
This review was a part of the Antanas Sileika Blog Tour. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments make my day!