There Is Only One Way Home
In 2011, inspired by the desire to create a more weighty fiction piece for my MFA thesis, I traveled to Florida to spend three weeks during my Christmas holiday with my grandmother, Klara Ponelytė Virskus Rugys. Armed with a small digital recorder, I spent a few hours each day interviewing her about her life, her homeland, and her family. Some of the stories I’d heard in bits and pieces many times before, some she told for the first time; because the interview was conducted in Lithuanian, there were stories that she elaborated on in much more detail she ever had in English. The result was more than 100 hours of storytelling I meticulously translated and transcribed to form the basis of my first novel.
There Is Only One Way Home is a multivoiced historical fiction work narrated by Grandma Klara’s oldest granddaughter Jenny. The story opens with Jenny asking Grandma Klara to tell her about the night Dresden was bombed. What follows is a tale of family feud and family ties, of war and adventure, of love and betrayal, and most importantly, an exploration of the nature of storytelling, how and why we tell the stories we do and a contemplation of the strength of the bonds we have with family members, no matter how difficult those relationships might be.
From a childhood in Interwar Lithuania to a childhood reading Nancy Drew books, from the first Soviet Occupation to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from the arrival halls of Ellis Island to a return to post-Soviet Lithuania, the novel revisits some the most pivotal events of the 20th century through the eyes of one woman as told by her granddaughter curious about her family’s cultural provenance. At the intersection of a panoply of voices is a work of fictional nonfiction, in which nothing quite happened the way the story is told, but on the other hand, seeks to tell the whole story.
Who is Grandma Klara?
Grandma Klara is a fictional character inspired by the life and stories of Klara Ponelytė Virskus Rugys. She was born in 1923 in Šiauliai, Lithuania. She is the third of four kids; her parents met while living in exile in Siberia but returned to Lithuania after the First World War to raise their family. Her father, a train engineer, is domineering; her mother, a housewife is timid. Grandma Klara grows up constantly at odds with her older sister Marytė and in fear of her older brother Viktoras. As a child, she takes refuge playing with her dolls in the potato fields.
As a teenager, she focuses on her studies and dreams of attending university, but it is a dream that will be left unfulfilled in the waning years of World War II. She is one of the millions of displaced persons whose lives have been turned inside out by the war, her family forced to make a home wherever they can find shelter. The family is torn apart time and again, but somehow always manages to find their way back together. Grandma Klara claims that she is shy, but there is nothing shy about the way she has survived.
You can follow Grandma Klara on Twitter where she shares more of her story.
In this video you can listen to me read the prologue of There Is Only One Way Home.
This book is currently seeking representation. If you are an agent or a publisher interested in publishing this novel, I look forward to hearing from you!