Thursday, 6 June 2019

In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas

In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas
First published in Lithuanian as Mano vardas - Marytė in Lithuania in January 2012. English language translation by Romas Kinka published by OneWorld Publications today, the 6th June 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Second World War is drawing to a close, but the world is far from safe. Left to fend for themselves, women and children are forced out of their homes in East Prussia to make way for the advancing victors. As the Russian soldiers arrive, the women know that they are still very much in danger, and that for them, the fight for survival is only just beginning.

Facing critical food shortages and the onset of a bitter cold winter without heat, the women send their children into the nearby forests where they secretly cross the border into Lithuania, begging the local farmers for work or food to take back home to their waiting families. Along the way the children find cruelty, hardship and violence, but also kindness, hope, and the promise of a new and better future.

Based on meticulous research, this stunning and powerful debut novel by Alvydas Šlepikas tells for the first time the story of the ‘wolf children’ and the measures many families were forced to take in order to survive.

Back in March I named Archipelago Books as one of my favourite publishers. Today I am pleased to draw your attention to another of my favourites, OneWorld Publications, whose books I would also pick up regardless of author or synopsis because I know if that publisher's name is on the cover, the book will be worth a look!

In The Shadow Of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas is newly published in an English translation and I was very impressed with Romas Kinka's work in preserving the Slepikas' stark prose. In common with How We Disappeared it brings to light a forgotten aspect of World World War Two, in this case the plight of destitute German women and children forcibly evicted by resettling Russian soldiers and civilians. I was intrigued by eerily similar scenes to those I recently encountered in The Hare With Amber Eyes depicting people being forced from their homes purely on account of their ancestry. There Germans perceived starving Jews as little more than animals; here, just a few years later, Russians talk of starving Germans in identical terms.

I feel that In The Shadow Of Wolves is an important novel to read and talk about even though the actuality of reading it is not a pleasant experience. Don't get me wrong - I loved the evocative writing and vivid portrayals of people and place, but that clarity of description is extremely difficult to bear. An East Prussian winter is bitterly cold, even more so when one's home is a woodshed and 'meals' more often than not are boiled water, perhaps with raspberry stalks for a little flavour. The chill emanates from every page.

There were frozen corpses along the side of the road and, at a little distance from the road people were sitting on logs. The children asked: 'Why are they doing that, what are they waiting for?' Lotte explained. 'They're dead, they couldn't walk anymore, they sat down and froze.'

That quote was one of the most shocking moments for me. Not so much that people had simply sat down knowing they would die as a result, but that those still walking past could be so matter-of-fact about it. This horror has become normality. That anyone could have survived these years is astonishing, yet this novel incorporates the memories of some of these wolf children whom Slepikas talked to. In The Shadow Of Wolves is a timely literary reminder of just how easily everything can be lost when intolerance is allowed to thrive.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Alvydas Slepikas / War fiction / Books from Lithuania


  1. I love having a favourite publisher because you just know they are always going to deliver the best of the best. It sounds like this is a hard novel to read because it is so honest and blatant about the war, but it is an important one nonetheless. That's how I feel about my current read, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

  2. I love OneWorld's YA imprint Rock the Boat :)