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A Storyteller

I have been meaning to scribble for some time about a friend of mine who writes fiction. Antanas Sileika's third novel, published in hardcover in 2004 by Random House of Canada Ltd., is called Woman in Bronze and has just come out in softcover. It received decent reviews on its initial release and was listed by The Globe and Mail (which likes to think of itself as our country's answer to the New York Times) as one of the top 100 books of 2004. The story follows a young Lithuanian sculptor as he moves from a tiny farm in his war-torn country to the Paris of Josephine Baker and the Folies Bergere.

This may be Antanas' third published novel, but it's at least the seventh he has actually written over the last thirty years. I first met Antanas and his wife Snaige (herself an accomplished lithographer and painter) in Paris in 1979. I wrote an article for Books in Canada magazine about young Canadians living the dream that brought Americans and Canadians - including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway -- to Paris fifty years earlier in 1929, a world captured so evocatively in Morley Callaghan's That Summer in Paris (which, apropos of nothing, was given a really stupid review by Norman Mailer in the NYT in 1963). For my article, I interviewed the young Antanas just before his first short story was to be published in a literary magazine called Paris Voices (fame came quickly to the lad . . . lol!), and we have remained close friends ever since.

I admire two things about Antanas (besides his love of partying, appreciation of good wine and unpastuerized Camembert, and his first-rate cooking skills): first, he has held on to his dream of being a novelist after rejections that would deaden the soul of a weaker person; second, he has remained true to the tradition of storytelling.

What I like about his three published novels -- and why, on the contrary, I still haven't finished Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated -- is that they are effortless, well-told stories which uncover simple truths about those of us who are 'merely' ordinary. They can be read in a single sitting, and afterwards you feel better about life and the people in it.

Perseverance and truth-telling . . . not at all shabby qualities in a writer . . . and a friend.

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