THE LAST GIRL

Stephan Collishaw, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-31298-5

The tragedies of recent Lithuanian history form the backdrop for Collishaw's impressive first novel. Most prominent of those traumas was the Nazi destruction of the heavily Jewish city of Vilnius, once a seat of rabbinic scholarship. The German occupation was both preceded and followed by oppressive Soviet regimes, which suppressed national Lithuanian culture in favor of Communist ideology. Witness to all this is Steponas Daumantas, now a poet in his 70s living meagerly near the former Jewish ghetto in post-war Vilnius. Celebrated briefly in his youth, he spends his later days drinking vodka and wandering the streets, compulsively photographing young, dark-haired women walking with their babies. Steponas is clearly haunted, but by what? The answer becomes clearer when he strikes up a conversation with Jolanta, one of his subjects. Jolanta reminds him of a Jewish woman he knew before the war, even more so when he learns that her mother is a Jew. Steponas's story is interwoven with that of Svetlana, his Russian washerwoman, whose father was imprisoned by the Soviets for promoting Christian worship. Svetlana, exiled to Lithuania with the rest of the family, goes to desperate lengths to raise money for her son to emigrate to England. The final third of the novel brings these threads together as it takes the reader back to late 1930s Vilnius, where Steponas befriends Rachael, the Jewish woman, shortly before the Nazi invasion. This is bleak stuff, but Steponas is good company, an intelligent tour guide to both contemporary Vilnius and its harrowing past. His voice, combined with Collishaw's assured handling of this difficult subject, make for an absorbing debut. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/05/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-340-82691-1
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4668-6200-5
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