White Shroud (Balta drobulė, 1958) is considered by many to be Lithuania’s most important work of modernist fiction. Drawing heavily on the author’s own refugee and immigrant experience, this psychological novel tells the story of Antanas Garsva, an émigré poet working as elevator operator in a large New York hotel during mid-1950s. Using varied narrative techniques including stream of consciousness, Skema leads the reader through sharply contrasting settings and stages in the narrator’s life in Europe before and during the Second World War, always returning to New York and this recent immigrant struggle to adapt to a completely different modern world.
Skema uses language and allusion to destabilise, drawing the reader into an intimate, culturally and historically specific world to explore universal human themes of selfhood, alienation, creativity and cultural difference. Written from the perspective of a newcomer to an Anglophone country, the novel encourages an understanding of the complexities of immigrant life, and reveals the brutal dislocation that so often drives migration then and now.
About the Author:
Antanas Skema was born in Lodz, Poland into 1910 to Lithuanian parents. He and his family lived in Russia during the first World War, and in 1921 returned to Lithuania. He studied law and medicine at university before switching to theater in 1935. He experienced the first Russian invasion 1938, the German occupation in 1941 and the return of Russian troops in 1945. Having fled to Germany to avoid the resumption of the Soviet Regime, he survived in the wretched conditions of Displaced Persons Camp until he was allowed to emigrate to America 1949. There he become a prolific stage actor and director, heavily involved in the émigré arts scene until his fatal car accident in 1961. White Shroud (completed in 1954), whose original Lithuanian version was published in London in 1958, is now considered a modern classic, famous for its unconventional style.