Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Readers ask: So…what’s a fugue?

Among the challenges I faced trying to sell my novel, which took about a decade, was that my title, The Fugue, refers to something obscure. I actually fought with this title for a long time, and I came up with other ones, some of them embarrassingly bad. Obviously, no alternative title satisfied (for reasons I think most readers will—even without learning what those titles were—understand if they investigate the novel).

Still, I want to say some things about my title. Just the other day, at a library, a woman looked at a Fugue postcard I had given her and asked, “How do you pronounce that?”

This is how: /fjuːɡListen here.

What does the word mean?

One reason I found the title attractive was that the word has multiple meanings, and I explore all of them in the novel. I’ll guess most people will associate the word with music, primarily a polyphonic composition technique. Here’s how a character in the novel—she’s a teenage music student—understands a fugue:

Lita knew what a fugue was, a composition of usually two strands—voices—of music that borrowed short melodies and phrases from each other. It was like a game where melodies played side-by-side and pretended to be each other, or sometimes even became one another. They could weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.

There’s also this educational You Tube video called What Is a Fugue? It really explains why these kinds of compositions are fascinating.

One of my favorite musical recordings is this one here, Ashkenazy playing Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues. While listening to that music with a friend in my Manhattan apartment back in 2000, I wondered out loud if it could be possible to write a work of literature on the principles of a musical fugue. Soon enough, I tried my hand. Whether or not I succeeded remains to be seen.

Of course, the word has other meanings. It’s a synonym of flight. That’s to say an attempt to escape, to flee a threat.  One fate of those in flight is displacement. The Fugue deals with an entire community of displaced persons and their children.

The last meaning is difficult to discuss without a spoiler, so I’ll say little about it. When I was taking psychology classes in Urbana, Illinois, I learned about conditions known as “transient” or “dissociative” fugues,  or “fugue states”. This National Geographic article tells of a contemporary case, and this book presents fascinating case studies. These days people think of the psychological states as forms of amnesia, but I’ve heard arguments that they are forms of schizophrenia or identity disorders. One thing seems common: in all cases, the person suffering from the condition has endured a horrifying trauma.

The book launches next week. I hope you check it out.

 


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Another blurb for The Fugue

The advanced reading copy of The Fugue is almost done. While anticipating how it will look, I received this humbling blurb from Alan Ziegler.

A character in The Fugue describes the eponymous musical form as having melodies “weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.” One of Gint Aras’s many achievements in this constantly compelling novel is to propel the reader back and forth in time, encountering several generations of characters (mostly congregants and clergy at St. Anthony’s in Cicero) in various permutations with each other and in relationship to a house fire, the central act of violence (and many subsidiary affronts) that bind and break them. 
 
Set in the Lithuanian community during the decades following World War II, The Fugue is partly a “whodunit,” but is more concerned with the steps leading up to and fallout from what’s been done. Aras is a master with dialogue (especially when characters are inarticulate with each other) and details. We vicariously experience such acts as converting beer bottles “into a crude stained glass,” writing with an antique fountain pen, eating, playing and composing music, and sculpting from scrap metal, seemingly innocuous details Aras exploits to accentuate evil and surprise us with good. Aras doesn’t sugar-coat the agonies—great and small—endured and perpetuated by his cast; rather, he spices them in such a way that you feel the bite on your tongue and remain hungry for more. Amidst shattered lives, it is still possible for broken pieces to find each other and make something beautiful.
 
The Fugue is scheduled for release on December 7th, 2015.
A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony's Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.

A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony’s Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.