AS HEARD ON CBC'S THE NEXT CHAPTER WITH SHELAGH ROGERS
After World War I and the collapse of Czarist Russia, former counterintelligence officer Justas Adamonis returns to Lithuania, a fragment of the shattered Empire. He's not entirely sure what he’ll find. His parents are dead, he hasn’t seen his sister since she was a teenager, and Kaunas has become the political center of the emerging state. He’s barely off the train when he’s recruited back into service, this time for the nascent government eager to secure his loyalty and experience. Though the administration may be new, its problems are familiar, and Adamonis quickly finds himself ensnared in a dangerous web of political corruption and personal betrayal. Antanas Sileika's Provisionally Yours is a vivid depiction of realpolitik—as well as an unforgettable story about treachery and the enduring human capacity for love.
About the author
Antanas Sileika is a Canadian author of five previous books of fiction as well as a memoir. Working as a Canadian journalist of Lithuanian descent, he became involved with the movement to restore Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union. His collection of short stories, Buying on Time, was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour and the Toronto Book Award and long-listed for CBC’s Canada Reads in 2016. His books have repeatedly received starred reviews from Quill & Quire and been listed as among the one hundred best books of the year in the Globe and Mail. He has reviewed books for print, radio, and television and he served as the director of the Humber School for Writers until retiring in 2017. He currently lives in Toronto, ON.
Excerpt: Provisionally Yours (by (author) Antanas Sileika)
Excerpt from Provisionally Yours
The border guard studied the identity papers Adamonis had kept hidden through his escape out of shattered Russia, looking from his photo to his face, from his photo to his face. He told Adamonis to stay where he was on the train platform. Adamonis set down his suitcase and briefcase and pulled the collar of his woolen coat around his neck. The guard's superior came back without the passport and asked Adamonis to follow him.
He took Adamonis into a cold office in the corner of the border train station where an unshaven man sat behind a desk in a room with a stove but without heat.
Adamonis could see his own breath and his interrogator kept on his coat and hat throughout the interview, taking many notes with a pencil that he stopped to sharpen with a penknife when the lead wore down. The man asked about Adamonis’s career in great detail – called up for service in 1912, accepted into military school, moved to the Austrian front at the beginning of hostilities. Assigned to signals.
This last detail pricked the interest of the plainclothesman. Adamonis knew all about interrogation, and he listened to the questions with admiration as the interrogator followed the thread of Adamonis’s military career in signals to his years in counterintelligence until the army collapsed and split into the red and white factions. This story could have got him shot a month ago back in Russia, but now he was in a place where he could tell the truth. At least he hoped that was so.
The interrogator asked him to wait outside among the exhausted families and ragged men in the waiting room.
“I’ll miss my train,” said Adamonis.
“Another one comes eventually. Maybe you'll get that one.”
There was nothing to eat in the waiting room, a big hall in the Obeliai border station half-filled with cloth bundles upon which men, women, and children slept while they waited to clear customs and quarantine. Some never would. He sat on the end of a bench and took a piece of sausage out of his bag, and a boy was beside him as soon as he cut off his second slice. Soon there were two more children and his food was gone before he could taste another bite. He tried to go outside to smoke, but a guard stopped him at the door and directed him to a smoking room where he had to roll two cigarettes for others before lighting up his own.
His train departed.
Three hours later, the guard called him back into the room. Coal had found itself into the stove and a glass of tea and two biscuits as well as his passport were sitting on Adamonis’s side of the desk. His interrogator came around from behind his desk, introduced himself as Lieutenant Oleka and saluted.
“Welcome home General,” said Oleka. “I wonder if I could ask you a few more questions.”
"No need to salute, Lieutenant. I'm not exactly in the army any longer. And I'd be happy to answer your questions."
The next morning, the whistle blew and locomotive began to jerk forward, leaving behind the barn-like customs station with its hopeful or crestfallen men and women. One more hurdle overcome, and all in all, not the hardest one.
The window beside him had frost creeping out from the corners and the fields beyond were covered in snow. At least the carriage was warm, crowded as it was with Lithuanian refugees coming back from Russia. There had been thousands of them scattered across the country, soldiers in the Czar’s army, bureaucrats and labourers, all going home now that the old Czarist world had collapsed and the maw of the revolution was devouring so many. He was in a carriage with the lucky ones. He’d narrowly missed being shot along with all officers on a ferry crossing the Pruth River in Romania. On a flatbed train car he was denounced as bourgeois, so Adamonis pushed the accuser and watched him fall under the severing wheels. The Soviets were especially bitter to have lost their war with Poland only months earlier. Anyone who chose to leave was a traitor to the cause.
The word home felt like the promise of a warm bed on a cold night. But what kind of a home would it be for Adamonis? His parents were dead and only his sister still lived in Kaunas, and when he’d last seen her, she’d been a teenager. As for the country, it had successfully fought off the Reds and the German freikorps, but lost its southern part to the Poles. Technically, Lithuania was still at war with Poland, and that had made it all the more complicated to return from shattered Russia, forcing him to head north, skirting Poland to enter the country through Latvia.
Adamonis was tired and could let himself feel it for the first time in a long time now that he was safe. He craved a cigarette, but there was no smoking in his third class compartment with its wooden benches, and it was far too cold to go out and stand between the cars. He could wait. He dozed and dreamed of places he had passed through in the months it had taken him to reach this place –- the Polish dvaras where the spinster sisters had come to him because his fellow officers were stealing their silver. The sisters didn’t mind the loss of the silver, but the thieves were wrapping the knives and forks in notation paper written by a former guest, the composer Richard Strauss. The sisters wanted to save the music. They even offered him a page of the music after he’d saved it, but he’d turned them down. Now he regretted it because the women were probably dead anyway. He had narrowly missed being drowned when the Reds shelled the ice across which his unit was marching. He remembered the forest hung with clocks looted by rebel soldiers, but too heavy to carry all the way home.
After a long journey with stops at every country station, the train slowed as it entered a long tunnel and then pulled into Kaunas. Adamonis stepped off the train with only one bag and a briefcase, not much more than what he’d left with years earlier. As he walked along the platform toward the station he heard cries of delight and saw joyful reunions as men and women embraced and whole families charged into the arms of relatives. But he could see no sign of anyone who looked like his sister.
A young man with a long brown beard and eyeglasses came up to him in the hall.
“Mr. Justas Adamonis?”
“Michael Landa,” and he put out his hand. “We’ve heard about you. I represent the Lithuanian government, and I wonder if we could have a chat.”
Adamonis measured men quickly, as he had been taught. This one looked all right and he was alone, and that was good.
“Of course, but not just now. I’ve been away a long time and I think my sister is expecting me.”
“We’ve spoken to your sister. She’s agreed to let us take you over to her house a little later.”
“Where is she now?”
“At home with her family. She’s anxious to see you, but she’s a patriot, and she understands. I hope you’re a patriot too.”
“It’s a bit too soon to tell. I just stepped off the train.”
“Then maybe you'll become a patriot. In the meantime, your sister lives here, and helping us will help her.”
Adamonis wasn’t sure if this was an appeal or a threat. He could be outraged or he could be agreeable, and he chose the second option. He didn’t really know much about the government, but it couldn't be anything worse than what he'd left behind.
Landa led him out of the station and down the steps to a sled where a driver was waiting for them. Adamonis wore a felt fedora and a heavy wool coat, but the coat had become worn as he had lived in it days and many nights for over a year. He was a solid man in ordinary times, but the last year of flight had thinned him out and he felt the cold as they drove along through light snow.
The city lay in a dim pool of wood smoke and falling snowflakes, with men walking by as quickly as they could on the silent streets. A mother with a scarf over her mouth tugged along a child bundled in a knitted hat and felt boots. He saw only three cars in all.
Kaunas had been a czarist garrison town that now had a capital thrust upon it after the war. Vilnius was supposed to be the capital of Lithuania, but the Poles believed it belonged to them and had seized it three months earlier. With the occupation of Vilnius, the Lithuanians licked their wounds and set up in Kaunas and called it their "Provisional Capital.”
Seeing the city of his youth through the snow was like seeing it in a dream. He recognized Soboras, the massive Russian Orthodox Church built for the garrison in the last century, but the low wooden houses and two-storey brick buildings seemed neither familiar nor unfamiliar, suspended between reality and memory.
Praise for Provisionally Yours
“Timely...in the tradition of the Cold War spy and espionage novels of writers such as John Le Carré or even Graham Greene...a finely honed political thriller.” —Toronto Star
“Sileika humorously portrays the bureaucratic bungling and missteps among those competing for power...“We are the trash men,” Landa observes, “and no one wants trash but no one respects the people who take it out.” Readers curious about the small Baltic country and a key period in its history will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly
“A perfect calibration of pace and depth, a lucid, stylish and bittersweet chronicle of a country's rebirth, and a thriller that is also a meditation. I loved this novel.” —Samantha Harvey, Man Booker-nominated author of The Wilderness and The Western Wind
“Offers the delightful unearthing of a little-known corner of the world—post-war Lithuania. Espionage, illicit love, bureaucratic bungling, marvelous descriptions of food and drink, strong women, desperate men. And subtle humour. And ultimately sadness, brought on by amorality in the struggle for power. A fine read.” —David Bergen, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The Time in Between
“Sileika is a master at portraying moral ambiguity. Set in an overlooked corner of Eastern Europe, Provisionally Yours has the gritty realism of a noir and the pacing of an espionage thriller.” —Nino Ricci, author of the Lives of the Saints trilogy
“Provisionally Yours moves swiftly through its well-orchestrated plot, with Sileika deftly integrating just enough historical detail.” —Quill and Quire
“Brings to life a time and place that many readers will not be familiar with...an engaging novel of espionage.” —Creemore Echo
Praise for Antanas Sileika
“’How are we going to survive unless we turn our hearts to stone?’ a comrade warns the hero of Antanas Sileika’s Underground. The question is an example of the elegant thinking that characterizes this rare and compelling chronicle.” –Globe and Mail
“Sileika’s novel is a gripping tale, and the fate of Lukas – how long his luck runs – engages the reader to the last page.” —National Post
“Sileika writes with a spare style that suits the action sequences as well as the rare moments of tenderness or humour. Entertaining and sometimes shocking, the book describes a little-known period of European history that has been kept underground far too long.” –Montreal Gazette
“Sileika vividly brings this little-known (to us) and very sad chapter of European history alive.” –Toronto Star
“Evocative, unfailingly honest, and dead-on funny.” –Miriam Toews
“The memories have been vividly, deliberately shaped by a master storyteller over a lifetime of telling, to powerful and often hilarious effect. . . This is a memoir with the dull bits removed, and the remaining highlights polished to a bright shine.” –Quill & Quire (starred review)
“Some essays are quietly humorous; some, particularly toward the end, are melancholy. All are thoughtful and heartfelt.” –Toronto Star
“Sileika, who in July retired from his long-time post as director of the Humber School for Writers, is first and foremost a storyteller. His memoir does not impart a strong sense of chronology; what it does do is leave the reader with vivid impressions of the writer’s life, written largely in a wry, unsentimental style. A kind of truth.” –Globe and Mail
“The Barefoot Bingo Caller is evocative, unfailingly honest, wry and dead-on funny! A masterful piece of writing — like being entertained on a summer night by your closest and most charming friend.” –Miriam Toews, bestselling and award-winning author of All My Puny Sorrows and A Complicated Kindness
“A wonderful book, worthy of Leacock. Funny and wistful, always engaging and wholly original, The Barefoot Bingo Caller charts the geography of belonging from the suburbs of Weston to the streets of Vilnius, from iconic Parisian bookstores to secret fishing holes in the backwoods of Ontario.” –Will Ferguson, Giller prize-winning author of 419 and three-time winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour
“The Barefoot Bingo Caller soars in its descriptions of a boy’s childhood and perfectly conveys with humour and aplomb the push and pull of the identity of an immigrant in a new land.” –Catherine Gildiner, author of Too Close to the Falls
“Risky and refreshing … These days, literary memoirs, in particular, tend to narrow in on a single, significant event or moment in time. The Barefoot Bingo Caller instead provides an overview of its narrator’s entire life and does so to its advantage.” –Literary Review of Canada