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The Wine of Eternity

The Wine of Eternity: Short Stories from the Latvian

Copyright Date: 1957
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Wine of Eternity
    Book Description:

    Ever since the small Baltic nation of Latvia became a part of the Soviet Union in 1940, its identity has been blurred to Western eyes. Many of its people have left their country in voluntary or forced exile. But, wherever they are today, the Latvians still cherish and preserve a rich national heritage of folklore and culture. Much of this is revealed in these stories, the work of an established Latvian writer who became a wartime refugee from his country. This volume makes the work of Knuts Lesins available in English for the first time, although his writing has been published extensively in Europe in the original Latvian. In addition to the stories, the author provides a background sketch of the history and culture of Latvia. While much of the fascinating folklore of the country is interwoven in the stories, they are not primarily folk tales. They are perhaps best described as penetrating glimpses into human lives at moments of crisis or decision which reveal an individual’s character and philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6345-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-viii)
    Ruth Speirs
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Knuts Lesins

    Although most of these short stories deal with modern times and universal psychological problems, they reflect also certain peculiarities of the history and life of the Latvian people. So it seemed advisable to the writer to tell something about his country, its background and customs.

    Latvia won its independence from Russia after the First World War in a struggle which united five nations — Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland — in a common striving for freedom.

    Thus Europe was provided with a so-calledcordon sanitaireagainst communism, and the first experiment in “peaceful coexistence” was started. The experiment ended with Soviet...

  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xxi-2)
    (pp. 3-29)

    Once there lived two young men. The one was a great drunkard, but the other, his friend, was poor in health and never touched a drop of wine. Both had fallen in love with the same girl. But the one who was ailing fell seriously ill, and he called for his friend when he felt his last hour drawing near.

    “Listen,” he said, “I have to leave this earth without having had a chance to taste its pleasures. May all its joys be yours. Only, promise me this: if you should marry Rasma, come to my grave on your wedding...

    (pp. 30-40)

    And this horn, which is called a French horn, you shall keep hanging in a place of honor in this farmhouse, from generation to generation, from son to son, and you shall keep it clean and well polished so that it always stays bright and gathers neither dust nor cobwebs. I do not mind, on the contrary, I gladly give my consent if, on a great occasion, someone who knows how to do it — particularly if he is a member of the Sleinis family — plays a tune on it which is pleasing to God. But children must not meddle with...

    (pp. 41-47)

    Ansis, the twenty-year-old farmhand, walked about sunk into deep, gloomy thought. He had never been talkative, but now he seemed struck altogether dumb. He had no luck in love. Anna, with her wiles, her supple young body, and her firm full breasts, had completely turned his head.

    In the spring, when he came to the farm, it had amused Anna to tempt the strong, shy lad with the blue eyes of a child, and to throw him into confusion. A smile here and there, sly questions and, as though accidental, a touch of her soft hand and her body brushing...

    (pp. 48-61)

    A southwest wind had set in, developing into a blizzard that did not die down for two days; it flung a tangled mass of thick, wet snowflakes at everything that stood in its path, and howled with strange animal voices about the gables of the farm buildings. Krauklis, the owner of the farm, lay in the loft above the stable, wrapped in his fur coat; his unshaven chin was raised towards the little window let into the roof, and he listened with melancholy satisfaction to the voices of the wind. He would have liked it even better if their shrillness...

    (pp. 62-68)

    Siljonis cast his fishing line into the Daugava, and a look of surprise came over his face when the float went down immediately only to pop up again as if the bait had been nibbled at by a small fish which lacked the strength to swallow it. He continued to jerk his line out and drop it in, humming to himself:

    He who hasn’t got a thing

    Cannot deem himself a king,

    Nought but worries, woe and strife,

    Isn’t this a hell of a life?

    From the other side of the dock, old Gramba protested: “Don’t sing so loudly, I...

    (pp. 69-82)

    An old Latvian saying has it that the Devil wears out nine pairs of shoes before he brings two young people together in marriage. We do not know the Devil’s requirements as to footwear — though they are probably exacting if he wishes to be present wherever his name is mentioned. On the other hand, it is common knowledge that shortly before his wedding Juris Akots performed a feat of running that would have done credit to the Devil himself.

    But that is not the beginning of the story. In the beginning, everything went smoothly and pleasantly. Juris, the younger son...

    (pp. 83-90)

    Annina, six years old, the little daughter of farmer Askis, was drowned. Nobody had been with her at the time, nobody understood how it could have happened. Toward evening, when her mother was busy in the cowshed, people had seen her in the yard. When darkness fell they began to look for her; and by midnight they found her where the lake was deep, at the end of the little jetty, not far from the boat. Perhaps the child had wandered off on her own until she eventually came to the jetty, perhaps she had wanted to pick a waterlily...

    (pp. 91-99)

    The regiment was retreating, but the company had to advance in order to protect a crossroads of which the village was more or less the center. Really, the village was only a cluster of small houses in the southeastern quadrant, with a brook on its south side. The roads divided outside the village — on the northern hill. A few enemy tanks had clattered down the south road in pursuit of the retreating regiment. This road was mined. But with a view to deceiving the enemy into a feeling of self-confidence, the bridge across the brook had not been blown up....

    (pp. 100-116)

    Valdis was half man, half legend — perhaps even more legend than man; for, in addition to what others had to tell about him, which was incredible enough, there were also his own tales about himself, and they were more incredible still. He regarded the world as his own private dream, likely to be invaded at any moment by a meddlesome nightmarish apparition — his wife. She was a small, round, energetic woman endowed with a wonderful gift for tracking down her husband, no matter which saloon in the suburbs he was hiding in. Actually, there was no great necessity for his...

  14. THE DOVE
    (pp. 117-134)

    It was a clear, chilly morning in August 1944, steeped in the calm radiance peculiar to days that turn towards autumn.

    Supervised by Germans of the Todt Organization, the group of men in the wood had begun to fell trees along the wide gravel road to obstruct the passage of tanks. Suddenly the rumbling of caterpillar tracks could be heard, and several men nearest the road raised their heads and listened.

    “Tanks,” one of them said.

    A pale man with a bandaged foot smiled as he sat down under an alder bush. “Retreat! How will they advance again if we...

    (pp. 135-142)

    It was already the third day of the third week of the third month that Vilnis had been in despair; he had not received any answer and did not know what to do. Perhaps this really was the kind of love that lasted six months, six years, sixty years? He had heard there was such a thing.

    He was a trifle shallow, a trifle frivolous; this state of being in love affected him like some strange illness, and he tried to assure himself that it would pass and leave no aftereffects. He was in love, and yet he had kissed...

    (pp. 143-150)

    Day followed day, smoothly and uneventfully, with nothing to distinguish one from another. Amis Grants had some time in his life become disillusioned and had reached the conclusion that it is best not to interfere in other people’s affairs — if one keeps to himself people leave him alone, particularly if one holds a position that does not arouse envy. He worked as a librarian; it was a quiet, peaceful occupation, not likely to be interrupted except perhaps by an outbreak of fire. But one morning his aunt paid him a surprise visit at the library.

    “To what do I owe...

  17. CORDA
    (pp. 151-160)

    Doctor Varklajs always walked silently and carefully, in soft F major. But the asphalt pavement, leading from the gate of the front garden to my entrance door, echoed his footsteps: F, A, C, F, A, C . . . At my threshold he would sound an E flat and hesitate for a moment over an unresolved seventh chord, wipe his feet — it was the resolution — in D and a threefold repetition of B flat. He would then ring the doorbell in a piercing C sharp. I would open the door, we would greet each other—a modulation — and presently we...

  18. TOYS
    (pp. 161-167)

    Linger for a while in front of a shop window displaying toys, and you will forget the rest of the world which bothers you: the present, the morrow, clothes and worries, the conflict with others and within yourself.

    What strange proportions, what bright colors! A wooden duck, bigger than a whole platoon of tin soldiers; a brown donkey and, astride it, an uncourted doll, with eyes expectant and arms extended; hanging from a trapeze, a little black devil who, as yet, has not harmed anybody; a shiny trumpet for a joyous, as yet unsounded, reveille; a yacht with white sails,...

  19. BEK
    (pp. 168-179)

    My father loved horses. He was a man of strong feelings but, being a farmer’s son, he had a particular, passionate tenderness for horses; it sprang from an inborn responsiveness to nature and all living creatures, and had combined with the skill and knowledge he had gained as an officer of the horse artillery.

    One of my early recollections — if not the earliest — is of myself sitting on a horse. My father holds the reins, my mother smiles up at me, and they support me on either side; it is a beautiful summer morning, the road leads through a Russian...