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Talking Location With… author Patrick Worrall – LITHUANIA

11th July 2024

#TalkingLocationWith …  Patrick Worrall, author of The Exile – LITHUANIA (and Europe).

I am British but my first two novels are written from a European perspective. I watched the collapse of Communism as a young man, and it seemed like the pillars of the earth were shaking. I headed east in the aftermath, living in Prague and travelling as widely as I could around that region while talking to people about their experiences. There’s something about the grand scale of continental history that enthrals me. I can’t imagine writing about murders in English country villages.

I’ve written two books now – The Partisan and The Exile – that are partly set in Lithuania. This reflects the fact that I’m married to a Lithuanian woman and I’m able to draw on her experiences and the stories that have been handed down through her family.

If you’ve never visited the Baltic States, I urge you to do so. Lithuania is a small country with a language as old as Sanskrit and a fascinating history. The natives were the last Europeans to convert from paganism to Catholicism, at around the time when Chaucer was writing the Canterbury Tales – so a thousand years after the beginnings of Christianity in Britain! This is significant, I think. Lithuania is very flat with no natural barriers, so it follows that the inhabitants have always been forced to preserve their own way of life, language and beliefs jealously under constant threat of cultural and literal invasion from east and west.

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My debut, The Partisan, deals with World War Two and its aftermath. The Baltic States were occupied once by Hitler and twice by Stalin in the war years and of course were all dragged into the Soviet Union until independence in 1990.

Patrick Worrall

Lithuanian Special Archives (F.3377,ap. 55, b. 189,1; 33a-l): Sofija Budėnaitė receiving a medal in 1948

Lithuanian Special Archives (F. K-1, ap. 58, b. 3405213,1. 3,1. 140): Albina Bunevičiūtė – later captured and executed by Soviet forces – posing with a pistol

It’s not well understood in the west that many people who found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain refused to submit to the yoke and fought bitterly against Stalin. This story of bravery and resistance is the back story of Greta, the heroine of my historical novels (there’s nothing fanciful about a female partisan, by the way: photographs from those days show that many of the fighters were women).

The Exile sees Greta escape from the clutches of the Red Army and travel to France in search of a missing Lithuanian girl. We’re in 1951, the period called the Fourth Republic when Paris was losing its grip on its colonies and lashing out in desperation.

This was a dark chapter in our neighbour’s history that I suspect will be unfamiliar to many British readers. But I had an ulterior motive in setting The Exile during the violent demise of the French empire.

I wrote the book as I watched Russia invade Ukraine. Terrible events, the like of which I thought I would never see again in Europe in my lifetime, were unfolding. Suddenly the scenery of the 1940s and the Cold War that followed was back in the news bulletins: dead cities and columns of displaced people; a thuggish Russia, the Western powers beset by terrible flaws and weaknesses; the threat of nuclear war in the air again.

Patrick Worrall

Lithuanian Special Archives (F. K-1, ap. 58, b. 3731113,1.207-2 ): Jadvyga Rudneckienė-Gegutė photographed in 1951

I watched a German documentary about a lone Ukrainian girl heading west away from the conflict and had an awful thought about how vulnerable such refugees are – friendless young people in a strange world with its own enticements and perils. I thought about Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the nightmare of a powerful state that has essentially been captured by criminals and is being run like a cartel. These were the things I really wanted to write about, and France in the early ’50s was the closest analogue I could find.

When I started writing this series my fear was that people would not be able to relate to the period anymore. Younger readers would never have experienced the fear of total war and the viciousness of men like Stalin. That was all in the distant past, I thought.

What a pity I was so wrong.


The Exile by Patrick Worrall is published by Bantam Press on 11th July at £16.99

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Catch the author on Twitter X @paddyworrall

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