REVIEW: The Barefoot Bingo Caller by Antanas Sileika
A rollicking memoir through the shifting zeitgeist of the last five decades
In The Barefoot Bingo Caller, Antanas Sileika finds what’s funny and touching in the most unlikely places, from the bingo hall to the collapsing Soviet Union. He shares stories that span his attempts to shake off his suburban, ethnic, folk-dancing childhood to his divided allegiance as a Lithuanian-Canadian father. Antanas has a keen eye for social comedy, bringing to life such memorable characters as ageing beat poets, oblivious college students, the queen of the booze cans, and an obdurate porcupine. Passing through places as varied as the prime minister’s office and the streets of Paris, these wry and moving dispatches on work and family, art, and identity are ones to be shared and savoured.
Dear Mr. Sileika,
Okay how could I not want to read this book with a title like that? Easy answer – I couldn’t resist. And since part of your childhood overlapped with part of mine, I knew some of the cultural references and enjoyed revisiting them. Others were new and shiny and fascinating to me.
At first I wasn’t sure if some of the questions raised and situations visited in some of the stories would be answered later. The answer in some cases turned out to be no. The reason for this became clear when I read the afterward and saw that many if not all of the chapters had appeared in print before as stand alone essays. Then it all made sense.
The trip through your immigrant childhood in a small suburb of Toronto, firing rockets, being shanghaied into a Lithuanian teenage dance troop, discovering after hours bars in Toronto while having to walk barefoot after a long evening calling bingo for 750 chain smoking senior citizens – hence the title which can’t be beat, then trying to become “literary” in Paris is all amusing. The time you and your wife – yeah, I’d put my money on her to get things done – battled the porcupine had me in stitches. The translating for visiting politicians trying to gain Canadian recognition of Lithuania as the Baltic Republics bravely faced the Soviet Union made me sit up and pay closer attention. History being made and all that. The snapshots of all the immigrant parents trying to put down new roots while their first generation children is as pertinent today as it was 40-50 years ago.
Thank you for this trip – as viewed through the lens of Lithuanian immigration – back home both in time and place and for the musings on what is to come. B