Shelagh's Summer Specials: Antanas Sileika


Shelagh Rogers interviewed many fabulous authors this past season on The Next Chapter. Every now and then, she would have a conversation so compelling, juicy, riveting or fascinating that it deserved more time than the radio show could allow. So, The Next Chapter has offered up extended versions of those conversations as special webisodes and podcasts.

Every Thursday in July and August, CBC Books will bring you Shelagh's Summer Specials, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.

Shelagh's Summer Special this week is her conversation with Antanas Sileika, whose harrowing family history influenced his novel Underground. An edited version of this interview originally aired on the November 14, 2011, episode.

We hope you enjoy!

You can hear The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One every Monday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. (a half hour later in Newfoundland).

When V.E Day was declared on May 8, 1945, the Western world heaved a sigh of collective relief. The Germans were defeated and the Second World War was over. But behind Soviet lines, the Iron Curtain was being drawn and in a sense the war continued. But for Soviet-occupied countries, it was a war of resistance. Lithuania was one of those occupied countries, and the homeland of Antanas Sileika's parents. They escaped, but many Lithuanians who resisted the occupation were killed or deported to Siberia.

Sileika grew up hearing his parents' harrowing story of fleeing Lithuania to come to Canada. It was one of many stories about Lithuania, before and after the Second World War, that he absorbed, tucked away and carried with him throughout his life.

It was many years before Sileika realized what a treasure trove of stories he possessed. When he finally did embrace his family's history, he found the inspiration for a novel: Underground.. It's a love story and a portrait of the Partisans, as the Lithuanian resistance fighters were known: those who fought back in the hopes that the West would eventually come to their rescue.

Antanas Sileika is a regular columnist on The Next Chapter, but this time he spoke with Shelagh about his own book.

Last fall, Shelagh spoke with him about Underground. Their conversation is full of Sileika's astounding family stories, personal insights and little-known history about the Lithuanian partisan movement.

"We believe in the personal now way more than we believe in causes. What's important are relationships," said Sileika. "So I wanted to write about relationships in war." He tried to approach the subject of the Second World War from a more familiar standpoint at first, but he found himself frustrated and feeling like he was missing something when he tried to write about the Holocaust. "I felt something was wrong, and I was overlooking the obvious: namely, that I had access to a part of the war that nobody out here knew about," he said. And so Underground is about the war from the perspective of Lithuania.

In addition to his own family history, Sileika was fascinated by all the history books and memoirs that began to emerge from the Soviet archives after the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. "Historians and memoirists began to write and there was a flood of books in the late '90s and early 2000s. The raw information was coming out," he said. "And it captivated me as a hopeless battle that they were going into. So I was fascinated by that. I also walked the streets. I sat in Partisan bunkers."

The title Sileika chose for his novel has multiple meanings. "On the one hand they're in the bunkers, they're underground, on the other, one character says, 'oh, you Lithuanian men, you bury your feelings,' and indeed, if you're dissembling to the enemy, you must never show your feelings," he said. "And I didn't mean to put this in, but it nevertheless is [there]: the theme of resurrection. One gets buried, and one rises again. Sometimes."

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