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From Russia with Lunch: A Lithuanian Odyssey

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Eighty-two years after Moses Dibobis escaped from the Lithuanian hamlet of Birzai with nothing but a sack lunch, the author journeys back to this former Soviet enclave looking for a link to his grandfather—something greater than their shared receding hairline and sense of humor. What he finds on this wild road trip is a place where premium vodka is cheaper than water, spa Eighty-two years after Moses Dibobis escaped from the Lithuanian hamlet of Birzai with nothing but a sack lunch, the author journeys back to this former Soviet enclave looking for a link to his grandfather—something greater than their shared receding hairline and sense of humor. What he finds on this wild road trip is a place where premium vodka is cheaper than water, spa treatments are more than a little invasive, and that Stalin theme parks are just the beginning of the odd charms of this beguiling nation. Through it all, David Smiedt takes all that is irreverent about modern-day Molvania and delivers a charming, funny narrative that captures the bizarre appeal of his ancestral homeland.


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Eighty-two years after Moses Dibobis escaped from the Lithuanian hamlet of Birzai with nothing but a sack lunch, the author journeys back to this former Soviet enclave looking for a link to his grandfather—something greater than their shared receding hairline and sense of humor. What he finds on this wild road trip is a place where premium vodka is cheaper than water, spa Eighty-two years after Moses Dibobis escaped from the Lithuanian hamlet of Birzai with nothing but a sack lunch, the author journeys back to this former Soviet enclave looking for a link to his grandfather—something greater than their shared receding hairline and sense of humor. What he finds on this wild road trip is a place where premium vodka is cheaper than water, spa treatments are more than a little invasive, and that Stalin theme parks are just the beginning of the odd charms of this beguiling nation. Through it all, David Smiedt takes all that is irreverent about modern-day Molvania and delivers a charming, funny narrative that captures the bizarre appeal of his ancestral homeland.

33 review for From Russia with Lunch: A Lithuanian Odyssey

  1. 5 out of 5

    Keen

    There aren’t too many books on Lithuania clogging the shelves of the travel section in most Western bookstores, so Smiedt has taken on a fairly unexplored and lesser written about part of the world. This was certainly the case in 2008 any way, when this was first published. Lithuania tends to be one of those countries that is confined to dark historical accounts of Communist Russia or WW II. Smiedt is good company, and he has done a fair amount of research, throwing up little interesting facts li There aren’t too many books on Lithuania clogging the shelves of the travel section in most Western bookstores, so Smiedt has taken on a fairly unexplored and lesser written about part of the world. This was certainly the case in 2008 any way, when this was first published. Lithuania tends to be one of those countries that is confined to dark historical accounts of Communist Russia or WW II. Smiedt is good company, and he has done a fair amount of research, throwing up little interesting facts like, in the case of Vilnius, it previously lacked enough locally sourced stone to pave their streets, so they decided to charge a toll of one paving stone to each visitor, which explains why some of the streets have such varied and colourful paving stones. He finds Lithuania still very much in a transitional period, with one uncertain foot firmly planted in its communist past, and the other tentatively testing the waters of its capitalist future. He explores everything about the nation from the cuisine and couture to its fascinating and eventful history. Each chapter begins with a Jew joke, but don’t be fooled, he also gets his teeth into some darker material too. Our guide certainly gets around, hitting all the main cities, visiting a spa town, ending up on a stag do with a fellow Aussie. He spends much of his time visiting a bewildering amount of museums. Ones dedicated to the devil, the blind and native architecture. Perhaps the most bizarre is his visit to a Stalin theme park, actually named, Stalin Land. He also goes into the morbidly fascinating, Museum of Genocide Victims, where the NKVD (the Lithuanian KGB) held people in a dank, basement prison. It’s a horror show of false confessions, torture, insanity and death, where not a single acquittal was ever recorded. He also talks about the tens of thousands of Lithuanians who were shipped out to gulags all over the former Soviet Union, with similar depressing consequences. Coming from a Jewish family, though no longer practising himself, Smiedt obviously has an interest in the history of the Jews in Lithuania. Not surprisingly, he unearths some chilling facts and statistics. “Between June and December 1941, it is estimated that 164,000-167,000 Lithuanian Jews-80% of their Semitic population-were murdered by the Nazis or their agents.” There are many more gristly details, but he also provides some uplifting history, with the incredible case of a Japanese man by the name of Chuine Sugihara, who is estimated to have saved between 5’000 to 10’000 Jewish lives. He was working at the Japanese Foreign Service in Lithuania during the war, and went against the instructions of his employers to grant thousands of visas to allow the Jews to flee the country. As Smiedt says, “By the most conservative estimates, Sugihara saved the lives of five times more Jews than the celebrated Oskar Schindler.” Don’t be put off by the awful title, this is a really interesting, and often fascinating book, and I learned a lot about Lithuania. The attempts at humour don't always work, but this guy can write, and has put a lot of time and effort into his research and produced a thoroughly enjoyable book that takes a fresh and welcome approach to a relatively unexplored country.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    It's an interesting enough theme and the jokes that kick off each chapter are quite good, but ultimately this is an okay travel book about a country I have not much interest in and a culture I have only the slightest connection to. I expect that if I was Jewish myself, or of Lithuanian descent I'd find this book excellent, but I'm not and I found some of the writing to be a little forced and it took what seemed like an eternity to finish this book as a result. It's an interesting enough theme and the jokes that kick off each chapter are quite good, but ultimately this is an okay travel book about a country I have not much interest in and a culture I have only the slightest connection to. I expect that if I was Jewish myself, or of Lithuanian descent I'd find this book excellent, but I'm not and I found some of the writing to be a little forced and it took what seemed like an eternity to finish this book as a result.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elina

    Really enjoyed this book! Glad I stumbled upon it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Artur

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Millward

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miss Nessa

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paolo Pietropaolo

  8. 4 out of 5

    GrimMandarin

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  10. 4 out of 5

    Beth Montgomery

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anton Valenti

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jakob

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tania Hutchins

  15. 4 out of 5

    Inge

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liam

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brett Kramer

  18. 5 out of 5

    Claire

  19. 4 out of 5

    Glynnda

  20. 4 out of 5

    Abby

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julia Scanlon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hamish Danks Brown

  23. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justine

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gediminas

  29. 4 out of 5

    Martin Purvins

  30. 4 out of 5

    AJ Calhoun

  31. 4 out of 5

    Elena

  32. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Fox

  33. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

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