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Provisionally Yours

by Antanas Sileika


Antanas Sileika’s
bleak spy novel takes us into what for most readers will be unfamiliar territory: Lithuania just after the end of the First World War. Recently freed from German occupation and granted independence, the newly minted nation is now “a morsel to various ravenous states.” Sileika’s protagonist, Justas Adamonis, has recently escaped from Russia, where the Czarist regime he served as a counterintelligence officer has fallen to the “Reds.” He is swiftly recruited to do the same work on Lithuania’s behalf; though not a fervent nationalist, Adamonis finds in his reclaimed country “something that needed to be defended.”

The novel follows Adamonis as he takes on the task – at once covert and confrontational – of protecting this new society: finding allies, detecting threats, exposing corruption, even eventually leading a military incursion into neighbouring Poland. It is work full of complications: “the tiny country he was serving,” Adamonis reflects, “consisted of interwoven Gordian knots that he was endlessly trying to pick apart.” At first, Adamonis’s attraction to his distant cousin, Lily, recently returned from America with her investor husband, seems like a personal distraction from these entanglements. True to the novel’s genre, however, things (and people) are not as they seem, and in the end Adamonis must make a choice between love and country that has unexpectedly devastating consequences.

Provisionally Yours moves swiftly through its well-orchestrated plot, with Sileika deftly integrating just enough historical detail to clarify the setting and the stakes of the action. He adds local colour with evocative images: Adamonis drives down “lanes where geese honked behind wattle fences”; in the winter countryside, “potatoes and beets lay in heaps and barrels full of cabbage were turning into sauerkraut as they fermented.”

Sileika’s literary territory, however, is more familiar than the Lithuanian landscape: the storyline and the characters barely rise above the generic, especially the lovely (but predictably duplicitous) Lily. Sileika’s prose is flatly unemphatic, which may be appropriate to the guarded way his characters must live but represses the story’s potential for drama. Ultimately, the novel conveys neither emotional nor moral urgency.