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Detailing a man's mental breakdown—and his obsessions with a seductress named Lolita, the omnipresent "them," and the need to uncover what's "really going on"—Vilnius Poker is an epic, paranoid novel about the surreal absurdities and horrors of life under Soviet rule. In the words of Kirkus Reviews, "think of it as The Matrix behind the Iron Curtain—unsettling and profoundly interesting."
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 desperately investigates the Them or They responsible for dehumanizing and killing the humans around him, including his wife, Irena; his genius friend, Gedis; and the young siren, Lolita. Meanwhile, failed intellectual Martynas chronicles Vargalys's struggle and the city's mysterious energy in his mlog, library worker Stefanija Monkeviciute dwells on her wavering faith and personal humiliations, and the city itself speaks in the voice of a dog, claiming that Vilnius can't distinguish dreams from reality. Wrought and fraught with symbolism and ennui, the oppressive internal monologues of the characters and the city show the intense importance and equal absurdity of life.