“The only thing better than the mountains is the mountains” (Vladimir Vysotsky). Life in the shadow of the mountains in Mykolas Sluckis’ novel A Journey to the Mountains and Back
Mykolas Sluckis (1928–2013) went down in the history of Lithuanian literature as a leading exponent of lyrical prose. An impressionist narrative, reflective nature and predilection for monologues were characteristic features of his novels.
The protagonist of his novel A Journey to the Mountains and Back [Kelionė į kalnus ir atgal] (1981) is Longina. A modest typist working in an office marries a much older man, Aloysius, a scholar and lecturer in ethics. Longina’s dream honeymoon journey to the mountains changes the couple’s life. They will feel the consequences of their adventure in the mountains all their lives. The main action of the work lasts 17 years. The adult Longina reveals her youthful dream about the mountains and turns it into some financial gain. Aloysius’ uncompromising attitude ruins the scholar’s promising career.
In interpreting the novel, we can find useful hints in the work of the Russian bard Vladimir Vysotsky (1938–1980), especially in his two pieces: Song of a Friend and Farewell to the Mountains. Publishing his novel one year after Vysotsky’s death, Sluckis may have wanted to pay tributeto the artist, who was loved by the nation and disliked by officialdom.
The novelist not only shows a panoramic picture of society of “mature socialism” in Brezhnev’s times, but also refers to earlier periods. He mentions the life in pre-war Lithuania, the beginning of the Second World War, the Soviet occupation and exiles to Siberia. Most events take place in the protagonists’ minds as retrospections.
A Journey to the Mountains and Back is a story of human fate and soul with its ups and downs. It is about a romantic desire for a noble life, “in the mountains,” and about going down “to the lowlands,” consenting to compromises with one’s conscience, giving up one’s youthful dreams.