The Last Day by Jaroslavas Melnikas

The Last Day 2

My grateful thanks to Stephan Collishaw at Noir Press for a copy of The Last Day by Jaroslavas Melnikas in return for an honest review. I don’t read nearly enough fiction in translation and am delighted to have this Lithuanian book here on Linda’s Book Bag today.

Published by Noir Press, The Last Day is available for purchase here.

The Last Day

The Last Day 2

Winner of BBC Book of the Year

Jura finds that the favourite rooms in his house, each designed to reflect an aspect of his personality, are disappearing one by one. He remembers perfectly well playing the piano in ‘The Grand Piano Room’. However, the other members of his family deny the room ever existed.

A man publishes a book listing the dates that everybody in the world will die. A family counts down the days to the death-date of their son.

An architect receives letters from God giving him choices which throw him into a moral dilemma.

My Review of The Last Day

A collection of eight short stories reflecting on the philosophy of life.

My goodness. The Last Day is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a very long time. I’m not sure I understood all Jaroslavas Melnikas’ allusions and intentions, but this collection certainly made me consider the nature of life, identity, truth, religion and philosophy.

The quality of imagination in creating these stories is exceptional and they have lost nothing in Marija Marcinkute’s translation. The stories are intense and the prose is eloquent and meaningful. The variety of syntax and the rhetorical questions made me think hard about my own life and the realities we create for ourselves – not always truthfully. Jaroslavas Melnikas lays bare the manner in which we can be self-deceptive, how we make frequently selfish choices and how we construct our own life’s narrative, sometimes only too thoughtlessly as in On The Road. I found many of his approaches and allegorical ideas very unsettling. There’s a nightmarish quality to many of the stories (especially with the disappearing rooms in The Grand Piano Room) and the concept of knowing exactly which day I will die on as happens in The Last Day confirmed for me that I do not want to know. This story is also an effective salutary tale of how we have become inured to social media, living our lives in public, even at its most intimate of moments such as our deaths.

I found myself attributing meaning and interpretations that may be very wide of the author’s intentions. In A.A.A I became convinced that the title was onomatopoeic for the sound of the increasingly challenging questions being asked – Eh? Eh? Eh? Both The Author and It Never Ends made me consider alternative realities far more than any science fiction I have read.

I’m not sure quite what I think of The Last Day. I’m puzzled, disturbed and unsettled by these stories. I’m going to have to return to them time and time again as I have a feeling their meanings and significance will shift and alter as my life moves on and changes, so that I am bringing different reader experiences to them. Whatever my final thought are, The Last Day holds some very special stories; they are utterly fascinating and I really recommend them.

About Jaroslavas Melnikas

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Jaroslavas Melnikas is one of the most inventive and interesting Ukrainian and Lithuanian writers today. La Croix wrote of him, ‘He meditates, like Dostoyevsky, on the relationship between sin and freedom.’

Jaroslavas Melnikas is a Lithuanian of Ukrainian descent. He studied at Lvov University and at the M. Gorki Institute of Literature in Moscow. He has written six books of fiction and a collection of philosophical essays in Lithuanian, as well as several books of poetry and prose in Ukrainian and a novel in French. He is winner of the BBC Book of the Year for the stories in this collection.

You can find him on Facebook.

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