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Woman in Bronze

by Antanas Sileika

According to the locals, the town of Merdine is the safest place on Earth to practice adultery. After committing their sin in the ruins of a castle at the top of a hill, a couple can simply roll to the bottom and confess in the church below. Such is the last vestige of glory associated with this rainy Lithuanian Macondo imagined by Antanas Sileika in his new novel, Woman in Bronze.

Sileika, the artistic director of the Humber School for Writers, is a craftsman of great heart and integrity. This is a novel of ideas that never loses touch with the basic humanity at its core. At turns magical, funny, sad, and powerful, it explores the unexpected results of artistic ambition and envy.

Set in the 1920s, Woman in Bronze follows Tomas Stumbras, a young and ambitious sculptor, as he is chased out of Merdine after a disastrous affair with a servant girl. Happy to be out of the largely artless town, he slowly makes his way to the artists’ communities of Paris. These two places and their inhabitants could not be more different, but Sileika finds the common ground, with each place echoing the other. Lithuania, with its constantly shifting borders, is being pulled apart by the great nations of Russia and Germany, while Paris is in an artistic upheaval. There the great forces are the famous artists, gallery owners, and collectors who have the power to change lives, sometimes with a single word.

Tomas and his two roommates, fellow expat art students, manage to scrape together a living while competing to see who can sell one of their pieces first. And, since this is Paris, their art must also compete with their love lives. The results are surprising, tragic, and sometimes beautiful. It has been seven years since Sileika’s last book, a collection of linked stories entitled Buying on Time. The novel turns out to have been worth the wait