Saturday, May 7, 2011
Diversion Press Welcomes Irena Praitis, author of One Woman's Life
the remarkalbe story about Ona Kartanas
Ona Kartanas has lived through extraordinary circumstances. Born in Lithuania during World War I she was orphaned at an early age and struggled to find her way in life. She experienced the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Lithuania during World War II, was interrogated at gunpoint on more than one occasion, lived in displaced persons camps in Germany after the war, and immigrated to Colombia, South America. Eventually she and her family immigrated to the United States. This book offers a series of prose vignettes that chronicle her story of loss, war, displacement, poverty, and struggle. Ona's life highlights the strength of the human spirit and the human capacity to not only survive, but to triumph.
One Woman’s Life is a remarkable story about your grandmother. How did you collect the information for this book?
I'd heard stories about my grandmother my whole life. After a trip to Lithuania in 1994, where my grandmother told even more about her life, I felt strongly that someone needed to collect her stories. In 2004 I sat down with her to interview her about her life. My grandmother, my mother, my father and I all sat around my grandmother's kitchen table. I asked a question, my grandmother responded in Lithuanian, my mother translated my grandmother's response into English, I typed my mom's translation into my laptop, and my father filmed the interviews. In 2008, I finally had a sense of how I wanted to write out the information I'd received during the interviews. That's when I started transforming the transcripts into the book.
What was your grandmother’s reaction to the book?
She loves it! As I was working on it, I sent her the first twenty pages and asked her opinion. She responded with an "it looks great, don't worry about anything, just keep going" answer. So I kept writing. She told me that while she read the book even more of her memories came back to her.
What is your favorite story in One Woman’s Life?
Wow, it's hard to say. I like the story of my grandmother's endurance after my grandfather left forSwitzerland in the middle of the war, and I also really like the story of my grandmother chasing the man off the farm in Colombia. I admire her strength of will at those moments.
Is there a message to be learned from this book?
Love is an essential element of survival. Power and action are admired, but it's really love that keeps a person and a family going through difficulty.
What other things are you writing? Is history a departure from your normal writing area?
I've never written a book like this before, so yes, this book was a departure for me. Mostly, I write poetry. I have a book of translated poems (translated from Lithuanian into English) set for publication later this year. The poet is a Lithuanian writer, Sonata Paliulyte, who currently resides in Vilnius. The book is co-translated with Kerry Shawn Keys. I also have drafted a book of poems about the Lithuania of my grandmother's childhood.
What question or comment would you like to leave up for blog readers?
I very much like your question from above: Is there a message you learned from this book? I'm curious to hear what readers take away from the book when they've read it.