Woman in Bronze By Antanas Sileika
One of the things I like about Canadian literature is the inclusion of the rich ethnic voice of writers, born in other countries, who are now Canadian authors. They bring a time and place of another culture with them as immigrants to Canada.
Antanas Sileika gives us a novel which begins in Lithuania, in the early 1900s. It is the story of Tomas, from his childhood in Lithuania to his youth in Paris in the 1920s.
This novel is a contradiction–or not–of the expression “truth is stranger than fiction.” For this character is the poor, luckless, but talented Tomas–I did sometimes find myself questioning how so much bad luck could be believable. But it is.
And Tomas somehow survives it. Maybe he survives because he knows he has a talent–a god given talent?
Very early in his life he learned not to trust God, which may be why he doesn’t see his “bad luck” as something personal.
The childhood of Tomas in Lithuania is described with both realism and warmth. It is another world–the farm, the Eastern European countryside during the first World War, and the lives of the peasant families.
Despite the harshness of the environment and of Tomas’ father, there is safety in the circle of family and community.
Tomas knows as a child that he has a talent for sculpture. Not content to carve religious figures, he dreams of studying art in Paris. And it is in Paris that he does study.
He becomes one of the vast immigrant community of artists and art students, all coming to Paris to make their name.
During the heady days of Josephine Baker, it is an exciting place and an exciting time. For Tomas, it is both a wonderful place and one most desperate.
It is the Paris of the artists, and the way they feel about their art, what they are prepared to do to succeed, what some are prepared to sacrifice and how some cannot.
It is a story of survival and the simple need of people to find a life of fulfillment.