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Vilnius Poker

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,013 ratings  ·  76 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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Average rating 4.33  · 
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 ·  1,013 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recent-favorites
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
Povilas Vibrantis
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the favorite books of Lithuanian writers.
A lot of truth spoken, cannot stop wondering how Soviet government let it be published. 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 ago.
Another thing I really loved abo
Nov 15, 2010 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
Jan 21, 2013 added it

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
Linas Klimaitis
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'd love to completely forget about it, just so I could reread it again, and again, and again.
Justinas Rastenis
If I had to decribe this book in one sentence, I would say it is the masterpiece of Lithuanian literature. After reading this book I was really disappointed that it is not included in Lithuanian school curriculum anymore as the compulsory read. It is often hard to follow, especially when narrations of other characters come in, but it is worth the effort. The story itself paints very accurate picture of life in the Soviet Union, which nowadays becomes increasingly romanticized by the people of ol ...more
I did not enjoy this book by any stretch of the word, but I do think there's something important and meaningful in it. Vilnius Poker is a surrealist postmodern novel about a dehumanised kind of life in Soviet Lithuania that, I am told, manages to capture the absurd and senseless aspects of life in Vilnius at the time quite well. The primary concern of the book, I think, is the decay of meaning and soul in Lithuania under the Soviet system, and Gavelis endeavours (successfully) to evoke similar u ...more
Jacquelyn Vincenta
Dec 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tadas Karpavicius
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Well this was a roller coaster. But in the end I enjoyed it very much. This is art at it's best. Now I understand why I saw this book among the top lithuanian books lists. Highly recommended for all lithuanians. However I am not sure if it is possible to fully translate books like these, so I would be careful recommending a translated version.
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
Clark Hulse
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A little-known masterpiece, a work of hallucinatory magical realism set in Vilnius during the Soviet era.
Megin V
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Maud (reading the world challenge)
[#127 Lithuania] Took me two attempts to finally get into this book but I eventually loved it, the work of a genius. Some people have written very articulate reviews about how great it is and I myself have trouble explaining why I loved it that much, so I would just advise you to read those reviews instead.
Jan 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: lithuanian
Soviet desolation, crass sexuality, Kafka-worship and hopelessness... if you have the stomach for nihilism by all means read this book.
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
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.
Hannah Cattanach
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
I would say this is about on par with the Master and Margarita, but this one messes with your brain more.
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A strange masterpiece. I couldn't stop reading it and I was sad when it ended.
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth A.G.
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Vilnius Poker is a difficult, dense and brutal book written by Ricardas Gamelis that explores the effects of prolonged foreign oppression, both psychological and physical, upon a people and city (Vilnius, Lithuania 1970's-80's) and results in a homicide that is not fully resolved. The main character, Vytautas Vargalys, has survived the horrific, dehumanizing labor camps from the age of 17 through 28, and suffers from paranoia and hallucinations. He tries to discover what happened to Vilnius and ...more
[Around the World challenge: Lithuania] This was my second attempt at reading this book. I DNF'ed it the first time. But it's the only Lithuanian book translated into a langage I can read, so I tried again. I'm glad I did. It's phenomenal. Maybe I wasn't mature enough the first time around. Maybe it was not the right time. This is a major case of non-reliable narrator. He's a paranoid, almost delirious labor camp survivor. Still, you need to connect with him somehow in order to get through the f ...more
Armandas Budvytis
Shook wow oho lb gera
Aug 13, 2020 added it
Shelves: abandoned
Read to page 223.
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 04, 2017 added it
I run up the white flag and surrender. This may be a masterpiece of Lithuanian literature, but it hits all the wrong buttons for me: psychotic episodes, narration through drug intoxication, graphic scenes of torture, confusing stream-of-conscious narrative. I just have to trust all the people who say it is as genius as it is supposed to be and leave it at that.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

May 17, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That was by far the weirdest thing I've ever read. And I've read Gogol ...
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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.

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