TITLE: Love Songs of the Revolution
AUTHOR: Bronwyn Mauldin
PUBLISHER: Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
PUBLISHED: May 2014
RELATIONSHIP TO AUTHOR: None, though in full disclosure, the publicist is Ms. Hettler, owner/operator of TNBBC, a place where I occasionally submit reviews. This in no way affects my review of the Ms. Mauldin’s work.
Love Songs of the Revolution is a fictional book. It starts with a “Cast of Characters,” include a map of Lithuania, about 100 pages of story, and around 100 pages of “extras.”
The “Cast of Characters” lists 15 names, most of which my American eyes could not sound out. Also included is the term for the Lithuanian independence movement (Sajūdis). Though seemingly helpful, the problem with a list of character names that I could not memorize is I assumed the story would be complicated (and thus the reason for the “Cast of Characters”), which intimidated me and made me feel less inclined to read the book before I even began. It turns out that the list wasn’t necessary.
The story part of Mauldin’s work is a fictional memoir. It is called Love Songs of the Revolution, and we are told it was written by Martynas Kudirka. Kudirka is supposed to be a painter who is a loyal Communist Party member. He isn’t all that talented, but the party supports him in exchange for paintings that further the government’s agenda. When his wife is murdered, Kudirka’s entire “happy in his nappy” existence changes. The memoir details that brief, but life-threatening, period.
The remainder of Bronwyn Mauldin’s work is the fictional “extras” that go with Kudirka’s memoir—a review of Love Song of the Revolution (the memoir, not Mauldin’s book), Tweets and blog posts from a graduate student, news stories, and an interview with Kudirka. American readers learn that Kudirka is a pseudonym and want to find the author’s identity, especially because so many details in his memoir don’t add up with history, but other interesting facts are made known using misdirection. Mauldin does not include a table of contents, so I didn’t know the extras were coming. Thinking the story was 200 pages only to be 100 threw off my readerly expectations of what the story was going to do. Readers predict the shape of the plot based on what is happening and how far into the page count they are, so when I thought something was going to happen, the story ended and moved into these extras.
Mauldin’s work is significant because it forces readers to ask questions of themselves. For instance, why is art important? Is it important? Kudirka doesn’t think so. He writes in his memoir that when he’s confronted, he mentally agrees when a man says, “It is garbage. Art is garbage. What is the use of art to the state?” Kudirka also believes that the songs of the revolution are worthless because they cannot create change. However, in the “extras,” a grad student actually moves to Lithuania to learn more about the memoir, meaning the story did create change. Readers are conscious that writing is culturally significant, but not always in what way, and Mauldin’s use of metafiction makes it a prominent theme in her book.
Mauldin also forces readers to think about the way culture shapes a country’s idea of freedom and independence. Kudirka maintains that he wrote Love Songs so that readers would find the factual discrepancies and seek more information about Lithuania (the good of the whole is a communist ideology). Instead, Americans seek out the author behind the pseudonym (the emphasis on the individual being an American value). Kudirka also comments on the way Americans are tricked into believing they have freedom: while there is no government controlling citizens, they are coerced into buying things that harm them while thinking consumerism means they are independent. If it were the government and not corporations manipulating its citizens, argues Kudirka, Americans would protest.
As a story, Bronwyn Mauldin’s Love Songs of the Revolution isn’t terribly interesting when you look at it as a whole (the plot, the Tweets, the interview with Kudirka, etc.), and repacking the book so it has a table of contents would give the reader some guidance. But, overall the book is worth the read for its ability to make readers reflect on themselves, their culture, and how their values are shaped by external factors.
I want to thank Lori Hettler and the folks at CCLaP for providing me with a copy of Love Songs of the Revolution.