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In Lithuanian Wood

208 pp.
ISBN No. 1-877727-87-3
White Pine Press, 1999.

In his beautifully achieved collection... Wendell Mayo explores the hard truths of the post-Iron Curtain era. Through the person of Paul Rood, who takes his enthusiasm for Walt Whitman to a country that has known only the depredations of Nazi and Soviet tyranny for half a century, the reader enters into the recognition of what tyranny, with its attendant corruption, economic exploitation, and cynicism do to the human spirit.

"Well," the interpreter laughed, "since we now find ourselves in this Lithuanian wood, you might begin by hugging a tree."

The American walked straight to the nearest tree, flung his arms around it, pressed his cheek to the smooth black, and closed his eyes.

"No," the interpreter said. "Not that one - it is an oak tree, and if you hug it you will be too strong."

The American opened his eyes and ran to another, slightly smaller tree trunk, and wrapped his arms around it.

"No, no, no," the interpreter shook her head, "that one is a maple and it will sap your strength."

The American's arms fell to his sides. His shoulders slumped. "Then, which one?"

The interpreter pointed. "Before you leave Lithuania, you can hug that young birch and say to it, 'Thank you.'"

The American did exactly as the interpreter commanded, then said, "So why have I hugged this birch and said to it, 'Thank you?'"

"In Lithuania, the birch is best to hug," the interpreter replied, "because you will learn to bend without breaking. And you must tell this tree, 'Thank you,' because it is the polite thing to say when you have been taught such a valuable lesson."


"Mayo has an eye for the small details, the ironies of custom and tradition... Such richly diverse stories suggest a powerful merging of history and folklore with everyday life...In Lithuanian Wood contains many striking, poetic moments." -The Los Angeles Times

"[Mayo] takes on topics that are often more difficult for us to approach. He provides sanctuary for characters who hold up the bones of murdered Jews, who don't find salvation in the West, who refuse to divide the world cleanly between Soviet and liberated Lithuania. Ready or not, Mayo has, as Crèvecoeur did for America, opened up our culture to wider interpretation." -Lituanus

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