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Vilnius Poker

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  245 ratings  ·  21 reviews
An assemblage of troubled grotesques struggle to retain identity and humanity in an alternately menacing and mysterious Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, under Soviet rule in the 1970s and 1980s. The late Gavelis's first translation into English centers on Vytautas Vargalys, a semijustifiably paranoid labor camp survivor who works at a library no one visits while he despera ...more
Hardcover, 498 pages
Published January 15th 2009 by Open Letter (first published 1989)
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26th out of 63 books — 16 voters
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12th out of 47 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

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I was afraid I'd have to like this because it was from Lithuania. I'd plow my way through, then give it five stars just because it's Baltic literature. But, hang on, what's this? - it's excellent. And cryptic. And surreal. Elements of Kafka, Joyce, and Pelevin.

At times it felt excessively philosophical for my tastes, but if you're going to be the one book in English to represent Lithuanian literary culture (so far?), you want to be a bit philosophical.

This was one of those books that required
Nov 26, 2010 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2010
Although I was engaged and rewarded almost constantly by Ričardas Gavelis's Vilnius Poker (translated by Elizabeth Novickas), I know the book is not for everyone. In particular Vytautas Vargalys, its delusional, pathologically misogynist labor-camp survivor protagonist whose PTSD-spurred paranoia presents him with a nameless group of nameless but italicized Them lurking around every corner, makes a challenging companion throughout the first 300 pages of the book. There is, undeniably, darkness a ...more

It's altogether so incredibly frustrating that I'm not sure how to start describing it. And I couldn't possibly give it a rating! God no!

As for plot summary, well, that's impossible. But basically, there's a group of people, some friends in Vilnius in the mid-late Soviet period, working at a library. The most important character among them is a paranoid, delusional gulag survivor. There are a bunch of other tragic genius men and a lot of women who get trampled. Or maybe not; I don't k
Jacquelyn Mcshulskis
I've read few translations (from various languages to English) that possess so much of what I assume is the author's original rhythms, attitude and texture. A fan of Vilnius, of Lithuania, and of the Lithuanian language and story, I am grateful to the translator, Elizabeth Novickas, for her care and brilliance in bringing this novel to English-speaking readers.
A very interesting insight into the Lithuanian mindset, and not easy going as a result. The change of narrative was nicely executed, and was neatly used to emphasis the troubled mindset of the main protagonist. Not necessarily enjoyable, but interesting.
Povilas Vibrantis
One of the favorite books of Lithuanian writers.
A lot of truth spoken, cannot stop wondering how Soviet government let it to be printed. The book criticise them at a very high level. A lot of insights about Lithuania and our history, even theories about a branch of human race - Homo Lituanicus that I've never thought about before. I believe it's a must-read for every Lithuanian, especially the new generation so they can understand how the things were 20 years before.
Another thing I really love
four narrators (one of them is a dog, cool) and cold and gray and bleak. prose teeters on that feeling where you aren't sure if you are going to puke or not but you keep swaing back and forth over the toilet, oh my god you want to die so bad. read this book and then when you die and come back you can read it again

The live skeleton crawls on all fours through the pen and nibbles at the grass. The skeleton of a tall man with a toothless mouth and bloody gums rips out a dried-up clump and slowly
This is a big, beautiful mess of a novel. Just what I was in the mood for. It's divided into four sections, each with a different narrator. The first one takes up 300 of the book's 500 pages and spends all of that time building up a lot of expectations and impressions that it will then proceed to knock down. And I mean that in the best way. The narrator of the first section and the protagonist of Vilnius Poker, Vytautus Vargalys, can be a bit of a boor. One minute he is offering up tired cliches ...more
“On days like that, the lightest things weigh more than the heaviest, and compasses show directions for which there are no names”

I read this book to page 167 before giving up. I loved the bleak, lyrical lunacy of the narrator, the deep, cheap, beautiful eroticism, the echoes of the family, camp and town that have slowly undone his mind… however, 167 pages is quite enough of it, and the story seems to be going nowhere; his paranoia shifts and grows like a tide coming in and out, and there is, see
Jul 25, 2009 Robb added it
Shelves: novel, fiction
To be, for once, succinct, I was not at all ready for this book. Vilnius Poker is a deep, difficult read that I will absolutely return to. For whatever reason, however, I couldn’t muster the focus the writing demands of the reader. Realizing this, I set it aside and will try again at some point down the road.

That said, even though I struggled with it, I knew I was reading, or trying to read, something very special. Gavelis’ writing is, in a word, stunning. It is also packed with big, huge, treme
I would say this is about on par with the Master and Margarita, but this one messes with your brain more.
Megin V
This book is incredible. I have read it over and over again and have always found something new within the text. My only critique is that the english translation loses some of the mystere and leaves less to the imagination than the original Lithuanian piece. Nevertheless, its dirty, depressing, haunting, and it stays in your mind for awhile. I never will look at pidgeons the same.
incredible, thoughtful in its attention to imagery, and wild in its application of ideas.

not difficult at all if you just settle in with it.
there is a long section of paranoia in there, but it fits the claustrophobia of the character's rationalizing.
but, it does go somewhere special by the end.

don't want to give anything away.

completely worth reading.

Linas Klimaitis
I'd love to completely forget about it, just so I could reread it again, and again, and again.
Stopped after about 20 pages when I realized I don't need to read any more long novels with paranoid misogynist narrators. An unfortunate waste of one of Open Letter's great early hard-bound covers.
Fantastic book, filled with quotable quotes, creates a paranoid universe of "Us vs. Them" that you can't help but start to understand...and start to feel a little paranoid yourself.
Soviet desolation, crass sexuality, Kafka-worship and hopelessness... if you have the stomach for nihilism by all means read this book.
A strange masterpiece. I couldn't stop reading it and I was sad when it ended.
kiek paukščių telpa viename sapne?
Daniel Squire
Daniel Squire marked it as to-read
Apr 16, 2015
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Ričardas Gavelis – prozininkas, dramaturgas, eseistas, griežčiausias totalitarizmo kritikas lietuvių literatūroje, dažnai vadinamas pagrindinės savo metaforos – Vilniaus kaip Visatos subinės – kūrėju. Tyrinėjo lietuviško mentaliteto deformacijas, demaskavo ideologijų poveikį asmenybei.

1968 metais baigė Druskininkų vidurinę mokyklą. Studijavo Vilniaus Universitete ir gavo fiziko teoretiko diplomą.
More about Ričardas Gavelis...
Jauno žmogaus memuarai: Keturiolikos laiškų romanas Vilniaus džiazas Sun-Tzu gyvenimas šventame Vilniaus mieste Paskutinioji žemės žmonių karta Septyni savižudybės būdai

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