A big thank you to everyone who came and launched Love Songs of the Revolution into the stratosphere on Saturday. We had a standing-room-only crowd at the LA Central Library, and Skylight Books sold every book they brought with them.
If you weren't able to buy a copy, you can order it from your favorite local indie bookstore. You can always buy it online as well. It's also available as an ebook or handmade art edition.
Here are a few photos from the festivities.
Photos by Melissa Wall
It's exciting to see my book set in Lithuania getting some attention from a newspaper in the Baltic region. The Baltic Times is an English-language paper based in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, with offices in Riga, Latvia, and Vilnius, Lithuania. They've just run a terrific review by Jonathan Brown of Love Songs of the Revolution. Brown is an Irish journalist based in Nablus who writes about Palestine and the Baltics. He's also a periodic editor at The Baltic Times.
Brown read the book through the lens of its historical and political context, which is what sets his review apart. A pivotal event in the novel is the massive Baltic Way demonstration that took place on August 23, 1989. Few people outside of the region are familiar with the demonstration and its historical importance. Brown describes it this way:
"The Baltic Way triumphed because a multitude of voices became one. United by song, hands, and political ambition, the Baltics formed an immutable force for peace and independence."
He calls the book a "Soviet whodunit," and writes about how, at the end of the Cold War, the West viewed and even exoticized the East:
"What compelled journalists in droves to the Baltic States and Eastern Europe after independence and the fall of the Soviet Union? Certainly, there was a voyeuristic allure in lifting the veil or 'curtain.' Mostly though, wasn’t it about seeing a world where the West’s political morals were turned upside down? Wasn’t it about seeing a world where corruption goes unchecked, the bad guys don’t go to jail, and the good guys lose out? It’s exactly this political climate that Mauldin coolly and impressively puts on display in 'Love Songs.'"
While covering the politics, Brown also gets to the poetics. What more can an author hope for from any reader?
"Entanglements aside, the mystery slides sleekly from one suspense, emotional pang, or clue to another, ensuring impeccable timing and delivery. In this, Mauldin’s prose and poise equals that of the highest calibre mystery writing. The book calls to be picked up, even if it’s put down. Poetic gems glitter throughout. Mauldin is sensitive to detail and nuance, her prose is always vivid and alive."
If you know indie publishing, then you know Akashic Books. Founded by punk rocker Johnny Temple and an early denizen of the Brooklyn literary scene, Akashic's slogan is Reverse-gentrification of the literary world. The publishing house first made a name for itself with books by such emerging authors as Nina Revoyr and Chris Abani. Akashic has also had a strong focus on authors from the Caribbean, and they established a highly successful place-based noir series from authors and cities all over the world.
Then they hit the big time with their children's book for adults, Go the F*ck the Sleep, which is now available in a Jamaican patois translation and an audio version read by the snake man himself, Samuel L. Jackson.
Akashic also has a couple of themed web series with very short stories (750 words max): Their noir series, Mondays are Murder, is followed by stories of parental misadventure on Terrible Twosdays and finally their drug-induced Thursdaze. Each series is updated every week with new, original fiction, and is free to read. At only 750 words per story, you can get your literary fix while waiting in line at your favorite third-wave coffeeshop, and they're a much better way to while away those empty in-between moments than the latest Flappy Bird replacement.
My own very short story, The Preaching Game, was recently published on Mondays Are Murder. It's set in Charlotte, North Carolina, where there are so many churches you'll die before you can visit them all. Read it right now.
We are going to party like it's 1989!
This year, August 23 marks the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a massive independence demonstration that stretched across three countries, and serves as a major turning point in my novel.
So it couldn't be more perfect that the official launch party for the book takes place that day.
Please join me at 2pm on August 23 at the downtown LA Central Library for the party. We'll have live music and Lithuanian snacks, and Skylight Books will be on hand with copies of the book for sale.
Here are all the details. Hope to see you there!
Book Launch Party for Love Songs of the Revolution
Saturday, August 23 at 2:00 pm
Los Angeles Central Library
630 W. 5th St. (map)
LA, CA 90071
Meeting Room A (near the 5th Street entrance)
Reviews have been coming in for Love Songs of the Revolution. Of course I think you should read the book, but you don't have to trust me. Ask these fine people:
Vilnius might as well be a character, for Kudirka's relationship with the city is romantic, sensual, and redemptive. When Kudirka finds the body of his murdered wife, he grieves her death, calling her "beloved," which is also the way he repeatedly describes the city, "my beloved Vilnius," "my beloved city," "like an old lover." Both his wife and home are his lovers, and Kudirka seems to perform a bit of psychological displacement by trying his best (which isn't very good) to help the independence movement happening in Vilnius in order to allay his guilt over having been a fairly pitiful husband. Kirdurka admits as much, realizing that "if I believed in nothing else, perhaps I could believe in that. If Vilnius was to be an epicenter of a great uprising against the Soviets, then I had to be part of it. For Natalie, if not for myself" and "Vilnius [was] the only lover I'd ever been faithful to." This devotion and romance for his home is his redeeming quality, and it is the thing that pulls us through to the end of the narrative. However, the narrative is not the end of the story. In fact, what happens after Kudirka's memoir is where Mauldin's real genius shows itself.
by KC Kirkley at Curbside Splendor
All this changes when Martynas’ wife is murdered. The authorities are reluctant to investigate. He learns that his wife had secrets. He feels compelled to search for the truth. He becomes embroiled with revolutionaries, criminals and spies. All this against the backdrop of Vilnius, a city alive with political and cultural change, a city he writes about with all the passion of the exile.
by Goodreads reviewer Kate Vane
Solid take on the suspenseful thriller, suitably twisty, takes place in Lithuania in the late 80s, which gives (as is its aim) an intimate and relatable feel to big seemingly cold themes of political unrest and espionage.
by Goodreads author Leo Robertson
The good natured self-loathing of the main character is explained by the surprising twists introduced in the second portion of the book, where the story takes an unexpected and delightful turn. Overall, Mauldin's masterly prose, ability to create extraordinarily believable characters and brilliant insights into power dynamics, writ large and small, make her an author to watch.
by Amazon reader L. Lueders
When the Lithuanian national football (soccer) team lost in a 0-1 game to Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 13, they lost their chance to vie for the 2014 World Cup. They were part of Group G in the qualifying rounds. Greece was the other Group G team that made it to Brazil.
None of the three Baltic nations has ever qualified for the global football championship finals. The Lithuanian national team is currently ranked number 106 in the world, just below Iran and the Central African Republic, but above Ethiopia and Kenya. Lithuania has won the Baltic Cup ten times since its inauguration in 1928.
Unfortunately, the Lithuanian football league may be better known for something else: corruption.
A survey of players by Transparency International (TI) last year found that one-fifth of all football players know or suspect they’ve played in fixed matches. Fully 15 percent of all football players admitted they’ve been approached to fix a match.
More than half the football players surveyed believe it’s a common practice, but the majority of them don’t think it’s important.
TI ran an educational campaign called “Staying Onside” from 2013-14 against corruption in football. The Lithuanian chapter of TI participated, along with Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal and the UK. One of its major goals was to get national football leagues to work and cooperate with their local anti-corruption bodies.
According to TI, one major cause of corruption in sports is when players or officials gamble or otherwise find themselves in financial problems. Robert O’Conner at the well-respected AFR football blog puts a much of the blame on a mix of weak labor laws and low private investment in Lithuania's local clubs. Employment law in that country still hasn’t come out of the Soviet shadow, leaving professional athletes uncertain of their legal rights. At the same time, the transition from state to private support for football has left the league underfunded.
These problems aren’t unique to Lithuania. Neither is the problem of match-fixing. But those shenanigans pale in comparison to rampant corruption in the International Olympic Committee and in football’s global governing body, FIFA.
If you haven't yet, watch John Oliver’s rant on FIFA. And here's a timeline summarizing the most recent allegations that Qatar bought off FIFA officials in order to get the 2022 World Cup.
Football in 120 heat, what could go wrong? At least there will be beer when "the beautiful game" arrives in Qatar.
If you look at a map of the Baltic region, you might notice a funny little piece of land sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland that isn't marked with a country name. That's Kaliningrad (Калининград in Russian), also known as Königsberg when it was under German rule for many years. It's a small piece of land that was was the scene of bitter fighting during World War II and eventually ended up as part of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era Kaliningrad was never integrated into one of its neighboring Soviet states. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, it remained disconnected part of Russia.
Today it's a port city of about a million people, where Russia houses its Baltic Sea fleet. It's Russia's only ice-free port in Europe, and Russia is serious about its ports. Some analysts believe one big reason Russia has remained steadfast in its support of Syria's murderer-in-chief Bashar al-Assad is because he lets them use the port of Latakia, which gives Russia access to the Mediterranean Sea.
In the past few weeks, Lithuania has reported several incidents of Russian ships interfering with Lithuanian ships in the Baltic Sea. Lithuania has submitted a formal complaint in the form of a "diplomatic note" to the Russian ambassador. Amid today's heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, this harassment is getting careful scrutiny.
This month also marks the 42nd annual Baltic Operations exercise (BALTOPS 2014) where military forces from the US, NATO and eleven other countries get together in the Baltic Sea and flex their muscles. It's primarily a naval exercise, but the US Air Force is participating as well.
It would appear that the US is just as serious about its own ports in foreign locales.
At the same time, the US Army is leading Saber Strike 2014, ground exercises in locations across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, involving 4,700 military members from ten NATO countries. Here's the official Army-issued tri-fold brochure:
All three Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - are members of NATO.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says these NATO maneuvers are hostile and intended as a threat to Russia, who in response has launched her own military maneuvers in the region. NATO and the Americans say these are longstanding annual festivities, not tied to recent events.
Then again, while in Poland last week, President Obama a billion dollar "European Reassurance Initiative" to increase US troop presence in the region. The name is as polysyllabic and professorial as our president. Maybe if he'd given it a shorter name with more hard consonants and better imagery (think Saber Strike!) he might have better luck getting it through Congress.
BALTOPS, not so much. Sounds like a brand of cheap candy.
Perhaps what's most interesting about these military maneuvers is how little coverage they're getting in the American press. A Google news search generates any number of pieces expressing outrage from outlets like Russia Today, ITAR-TASS and Voice of Russia.
Searches for BALTOPS and Saber Strike at the New York Times generated zero results. The same search at the Washington Post generated one AP story about Canadian participation. Even the Huffington Post didn't deliver. Not enough Kardashians?
As in 1989 and as in 1939, world history is playing out in the Baltic nations while no one watches.
A few years back I had the good fortune to travel to Egypt on vacation. We hit all the usual, amazing places: the pyramids of Giza; the beautiful mosques of old Cairo; the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor; and Abu Simbel.
Less than a week after we got back home, the country exploded in protests, and suddenly everyone around the world had heard of Tahrir Square.
And everywhere I went there was kushari, the national dish of Egypt. Like ramen in Japan or burgers in America, you can find fancy kushari made with high quality ingredients at good restaurants, but you'll probably want to grab a greasy pile of deliciousness in a cardboard to-go container on the street or in a fast food place. It's easy to make, and all the ingredients are familiar and easy to find. I was so taken with it that I made this "prezipe" to show how to make it. Enjoy!
The first thing you'll learn when you write a book set in Lithuania, is just how many of your friends have some kind of Lithuanian family connection.
The Lithuanian-American Community organization estimates there are about 800,000 Americans of Lithuanian descent. Some of them are quite famous. Perhaps you’ve heard of
We've even got a Lithuanian-American Revolutionary War hero, Brigadier General Tadeusz Kościuszko (sometimes spelled Thaddeus Kosciuszko). He fought with the Americans, before returning home to fight for the Polish-Lithuanian army against the Russians. It's his name on the NYC subway's Kosciuszko Street Station.
There have been several waves of migration from Lithuania to the U.S. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, migration was more often for economic than political reasons. By World War I, roughly 300,000 Lithuanian immigrants lived in the United States. Large concentrations of Lithuanians settled in cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, although the largest group is in Chicago. The Windy City is home to the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, located in the West Lawn neighborhood.
During World War II, when Germany and the Soviet Union carved up large chunks of eastern Europe as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (more on that in a future post), Lithuania ended up under the Soviets, who kept control over the country after the war ended. From that point and up until Lithuania declared independence in 1990, emigration was driven more by politics.
Lithuanian-Americans have a special place in American literature as well. If you’ve ever read Upton Sinclair’s great classic, The Jungle, about poverty, exploitation and horrific working conditions in the Chicago meatpacking industry, then you’ve met a whole community of fictional Lithuanian-American immigrants in the family of Jurgis Rudkus, the novel’s main character.
So the next time you listen to Under the Bridge, enjoy an airplane flight without cigarette smoke or vote in an American election, remember, you have a Lithuanian to thank for that.
Looking for your next book to read? I can recommend all these great indie press books.