Peirene No. 26

Shadows on the Tundra

Dalia Grinkevičiutė


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  • Description

    An extraordinary piece of international survival literature, joining the likes of Primo Levi and Anne Frank. 



    In 1941, 14-year-old Dalia and her family are deported from their native Lithuania to a labour camp in Siberia. As the strongest member of her family she submits to twelve hours a day of manual labour. At the age of 21, she escapes the gulag and returns to Lithuania. She writes her memories on scraps of paper and buries them in the garden, fearing they might be discovered by the KGB. They are not found until 1991, four years after her death. This is the story Dalia buried. The immediacy of her writing bears witness not only to the suffering she endured but also the hope that sustained her. It is a Lithuanian tale that, like its author, beats the odds to survive.

    Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
    There is only one word to describe this book, extraordinary. It blew me away when I first read it in German translation. Dalia’s account goes far beyond a memoir. This is an outstanding piece of literature which should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the Soviet repression.

    Written by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė.
    Translated from the Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas.

    Home in Exile series
    192pp, paperback with flaps, £12
    ISBN 978-1-908670-44-1
    eISBN 978-1-908670-45-8


  • Author

    Dalia Grinkevičiūtė (1927-1987) was born in Kaunas, the former capital of Lithuania. She spent her teenage years in a Siberian gulag. At 21 she escaped and returned to her home country only to be deported to Siberia once again in 1951. She was released five years later, then studied medicine. Grinkevičiūtė’s writings are now placed firmly in the Lithuanian canon.

  • Translator

    Born in Germany of Lithuanian parents, who fled their home in 1944 to escape the Russian occupation, Delija Valiukenas and her family emigrated to the United States and settled in Upstate New York. She earned her Ph.D. in English Literature from Brown University and has taught World Literature for 34 years. Delija writes and translates for Baltic and Lithuanian journals; and was commissioned by the Lithuanian National Theatre of Kaunas to translate selected Lithuanian plays into English.

  • Press

    ‘Dalia Grinkeviciute’s account of surviving starvation and hard labour deserves to become a classic.’ Anna Aslanyan, The Spectator

    Shadows on the Tundra is a devastating portrait of human cruelty … yet Dalia’s searing tale is unexpectedly uplifting.’ Lucy Popescu, The Riveter

    ‘Dalia’s suffering is so breathlessly cruel that the Gulag may have been plucked from some dark early century, but her voice – angry, sulky, sarcastic – brings it hurrying into the present.’ Julie McDowall, TLS

    ‘A distressing historic document and a literary work of great significance.’ Neue Zürcher Zeitung

    ‘An incredible force of language … the story of constant indignation.’ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • For Reading Groups

    Reading Shadows on the Tundra in a book group? Here’s some questions to get the conversation going:

    1. Shadows on the Tundra was originally written on scraps of paper that Dalia Grinkevičiūtė buried in her garden to keep hidden from the KGB. How does this background information affect the way you read the story?

    2. The book’s structure matches the way Dalia structured her original writing. What is your opinion of the lack of chapters or headings?

    3. How do the occasional photographs and maps enhance your reading experience?

    4. “Snowflakes pirouette gracefully onto the bellies and sightless eyes of the dead” (61). What do Dalia’s detailed descriptions tell you about life in the Gulag?

    5. What role does Krikštanis play in the story?

    6. What does Dalia’s behavior at her trial tell you about her character?

    7. “Then comes the hill: this is Golgotha, our Calvary. The tall, steep, crumbling riverbank. We stumble, we slip and slide, we dangle from our traces; the rope presses against our chests” (86). What is the importance of this hill, and why does Dalia describe it so often?

    8. What is your impression of the book’s ending?

    9. How has reading this book changed your understanding of the historical period in which it was written?

    10. What can a modern-day audience learn from Dalia’s story?