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The Other Drums


English sample available

In The Other Drums, Lena Eltang’s brilliant third novel, the national prize-winning author completes the theme of escape and freedom in a work that has prompted comparisons to such classics as De Profundis and Invitation to a Beheading.


The novel begins with the arrest of 34-year old Kostas Kairis, a Lithuanian citizen, in his house in Lisbon, Portugal. Kostas is not the original owner of the house; his step-aunt Zoe inherited the ancient mansion after the suicide of her husband, scion of a noble Portuguese family. Zoe included Kostas in her will at the last moment, just a few days before her early demise from cancer at the age of 44, leaving virtually nothing to her own daughter. The aunt’s will burdens Kostas with mortgage payments to the bank, and bans him from re-selling the property. An idle intellectual, Kostas pays the bills by selling the Braga family furniture and jewelry, and subletting the house to shadowy business operations. First, his childhood friend Ljutas installs cameras into the mansion to shoot porn movies.

The built-in surveillance appliances come in handy for blackmailing Kostas’ chance lover, who offers a share of her husband’s settlement deal if they catch him with his pants down on a set-up date with a call girl. Kostas watches in awe as the date unravels and a stranger shoots the prostitute with the Braga family gun. The blackmailers turn the evidence of dead body against Kostas, and when the police come to arrest him several weeks later on murder charges, Kostas feels relieved – he will not hesitate to reveal the identities of the real murderers.

His experience in jail is a rude awakening for Kostas: he is held in solitary confinement as a murderer; the interrogations and meetings with a lawyer are only occasional; and the guards often forget to bring him his meals. Yet he’s been allowed to use his laptop – a real treasure for an undereducated historian turned writer. Kostas begins by writing a letter to his Estonian wife, from whom he separated over fifteen years before. What begins as an explanatory letter grows during nine weeks of imprisonment into powerful confessional prose permeated with guilt, melancholy, and fear of loss. As Kostas Kairis speaks of people he once knew, loved and hated, befriended and betrayed, dreamt of and never came to understand, the reader of Kostas’ “diary” becomes the spectator of a street puppet show at which the director, with a wave of his wand or the sound of the other drums, exchanges roles with the cast. The tension and passion grows with every page, until one day Kostas begins thinking the door to the cell is not real either, throws it open – and walks out.

In her immaculate poetic diction, and with profound encyclopedic knowledge, Lena Eltang concocts a unique mosaic of a novel about guilt and memory that makes us all its voluntary prisoners.

Book details

Eksmo novel, 2011

640 pp

Rights sold

  • All rights available

Literary awards

  • Shortlisted for the Big Book Literary Award 2012

  • Finalist of the Russian Literary Prize 2011

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