Few Americans could find Lithuania on a map. Yet that little Baltic country has a long, proud history — in fact, for a time it was not little at all — and has borne witness to many of the seminal events of recent centuries. And Lithuanian-Canadian author Antanas Sileika cleverly picks the years immediately following World War I to set a spy story there. In the process, he helps us gain perspective on some of the most interesting events of the twentieth century. In Provisionally Yours, loosely based on real-world people and events, Sileika illustrates the fallout from the Russian Revolution, the impact of World War I on the Eastern Front, and the all-too-predictable consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.
Provisionally Yours by Antanas Sileika (2019) 272 pages
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Sileika’s protagonist, Justas Adamonis, is modeled on one “Jonas Budrys . . . the chief of Lithuanian counterintelligence between 1921 and 1923. [He] was the James Bond of a backward former Russian province; he inspired my Justas Adamonis and as a nod toward that lineage, I named Adamonis’s secretary Miss Pinigelas, which is an approximate translation of the name ‘Miss Moneypenny’ from the James Bond novels.” However, Admonis comes across as nothing at all like James Bond, or Pinigelas as Miss Moneypenny. Oh, and by the way, Jonas Budrys’s son was the late Algis Budrys, a name familiar to fans of classical science fiction.
A spy story set in Lithuania in a perilous time
Lithuania had fought its way out of the Russian Empire in the throes of the Revolution and signed a peace treaty with the Communist regime in Moscow. But the country was in an exceedingly precarious position. Poland, its much larger neighbor to the south and west, had seized the capital, Vilnius, and threatened to invade the rest. In fact, after the Lithuanian language, Polish was the most commonly spoken tongue in the country. (Russian, German, and Yiddish were also widely understood.) The government was broke and largely dysfunctional, dependent on hard-to-get loans from German banks that were themselves reeling from World War I.
Into this chaotic scene comes Justas Adamonis, a refugee from the Soviet Union. He is a thirty-something former soldier in the tsar’s army who had worked in military intelligence, first for the Whites and then the Reds in Russia’s blood-soaked civil war. No sooner does he arrive in Kaunas, the provisional capital, than he is recruited to run the country’s counterintelligence agency.
More than just a spy story, a window on history
In his new job for the Lithuanian provisional government, Adamonis chances upon evidence that members of the cabinet are smuggling goods into Russia, where famine has taken hold. Much of his time and energy goes toward amassing proof of the conspiracy. But he finds time to reacquaint himself with his huge extended family in the countryside and to fall in love with a distant cousin who has just returned from the United States with a wealthy American husband. Sileika’s story is engaging in its own right, but Provisionally Yours is more than just a spy story set in Lithuania. It captivates for its detailed look at life in that troubled little corner of the world at one of the inflection points in twentieth-century history.
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