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.
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.
Like him, we’re not quite sure who’s good and who’s bad, who he should trust and who he should fear, just why he’s doing what he’s doing, but the narration is so stylish and the tempo so compelling that we keep reading.
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.
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.