On Bronwyn Mauldin’s ‘Love Songs of the Revolution’

Al Kratz
Al Kratz
Sep 11, 2017 · 5 min read

Mauldin’s novel of the Lithuanian Singing Revolution is deep and ambitious, despite being disjointed.

Bronwyn Mauldin
Historical Fiction
202 pages
5 ½” x 8 ½” perfect-bound trade paperback
ISBN 978–1939987211
First Edition
Review Copy: Mobi ARC
Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Available HERE
$14.00
Review by Al Kratz

Bronwyn Mauldin’s novel, Love Songs of the Revolution, is set in Lithuania during the summer of 1989 at the beginning of the revolution that eventually dissolved the Soviet Union. It’s framed as a memoir written by Martynas Kudirka, a loyal party member and official propaganda painter for the Lithuanian Communist government. He is thrown into a world of criminal and political mystery when he discovers his murdered wife’s body. In the chaos that ensues, he learns the secrets of his wife’s life and faces questions of his own life, as well.

Much of it is reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, with themes of totalitarianism and the impossible odds an individual faces trying to defeat it. The characters deal with the idea that the only true loss would be deciding not to fight. Martynas constantly struggles with this and relies on posthumous lessons from his wife. Because Mauldin’s 1989 isn’t an imagined futuristic what-if but an actual historical event, of a real totalitarian threat, it is more suspenseful and in many ways scarier than 1984.

The character Martynas Kudirka would have also been right at home in a John le Carré novel. He gets in the middle of operatives for communists and revolutionaries. He gets mixed up with an American CIA agent. In this world, new to Martynas, he can never be sure who is his ally or enemy.

That story makes up the first 100 pages of the novel’s 200. Although the ending is as natural as any Orwell or le Carré ending, the book does, somewhat abruptly, change framework. The second part is an appendix of metafictional artifacts with a new mystery about the memoir including questions around its historical accuracy and even the existence of the writer, Martynas, almost Handmaid’s Tale-like. This is done with materials like press releases, blogs, and Twitter feeds. The result of this is that what we thought was the book, becomes a character in the larger story. It even serves up a little fun, including a snarky, negative, and unfair review of the book in the comments section of an article:

There is merit in the risk taken and a dedication to doing something different, but I didn’t feel it was quite as successful as the early part of the novel. The first part already was strong and multi-dimensional across so many subtexts. On top of being a suspenseful spy story about the fight against totalitarianism, it was also a compelling story of Martynas finding himself, coming of age even though he was a middle-aged adult.

The memoir format allowed the older Martynas, living in contemporary America, to give commentary about American lives while he reflected on Lithuanian history. He breaks the fourth wall and delivers a similar story above the story, a fictional review of its own work:

This fictional negative review works in reverse and rather than scaring the reader, the tongue-in-cheek works more as a challenge, a promise to entertain, and one that the memoirist never lets off the gas:

This keeps the reader on guard, draws him in to understand what this means. What are the different ways it can be read? What type of story is it going to be? It is clearly self-aware that it’s all of these in one:

These components make it a very deep and rightfully ambitious novel. I’m not sure the metafictional components of part two served it enough in proportion to claim half of the work’s total space. Yet, like a movie that has the ‘What Happened to Them’ slides while the credits roll, I was glad I stayed for it, and it did succeed in turning the book into a viable character worth checking out.

Originally published on 6/22/16.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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