Vilis Lācis (1904–1966) was born in Mangaļi parish in the fishing village of Rīnūži (present-day Vecmīlgrāvis near Rīga). During the First World War, his family was evacuated to the Altai region in Russia, where Lācis finished his studies as a teacher and began work as the secretary of the village council. On returning to the newly-independent Latvia, Lācis tried his hand at several different jobs: fisherman, harbour labourer, stoking a ship’s furnace, and working at a library. At the same time, he was focused on his writing and making contacts among Communists. During the 1930s, his writing career was helped by the publisher Emīlija Benjamiņa, who published a serialised version of Lācis’s novel Zvejnieka dēls [The Fisherman’s Son] in the newspaper “Jaunākās Ziņas”. As a result, Lācis became one of the most popular Latvian writers. In 1940–1941, Lācis was amongst those who helped to establish the new Soviet government in Latvia. During the Second World War, he fled to Moscow along with other Soviet activists; on the return of the Soviet occupation he once again came to power, serving as the chairman of the Soviet of Nationalities of the USSR Supreme Soviet (1950–1958) and the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Latvian SSR (1946–1959).
Due to his political activities (he signed the arrest and deportation orders for many major figures in Latvian society and politics), Lācis’s role in Latvian history is mixed; even tragic. However, due to his captivating Soviet-era novels, he continues to be one of the most popular Latvian writers in Latvia. In the 1930s, as much as today, readers enjoyed the exciting adventures, the noble qualities of the characters, and the fast-paced and well-designed plots, all of which characterise Lācis’s prose. Following the start of the Soviet occupation, Lācis became declarative. The works of Lācis have been adapted for film and television more than those of any other Latvian author.
Books to fall for
The Fisherman's Son
The Fisherman's Son (Zvejnieka dēls)
This story depicts life in a Vidzeme fishing village on the north-eastern coast of Latvia during the 1920s and 1930s. For Lācis, the inhabitants live a difficult, impoverished, unjust existence, caused by greedy buyers and other Capitalists. The novel offers a detailed examination of the unhealthy relationships between the villagers, as well as the alcoholism, poverty, and other problems caused by overwork, which all makes them passive and easily manipulated. Lācis encapsulates all of these themes in the microcosm of the Kļava family. Its patriarch is an uncouth braggart, while the youngest son, Roberts, is an educated but immoral city-dweller. Only the oldest son, Oskars, who is “more than six feet tall, broad-shouldered, well- grounded, seasoned by the sea winds” feels distressed by the poverty of the fishermen. Oskars marries a rich shopkeeper’s daughter but realises that this was not the right choice and returns to fishing, so he can change the engrained routines of life and the local economy, and to fight those who try to harm the village residents. Zvejnieka dēls is one of the most popular Latvian novels of all time. It has been adapted for the screen two different times (by director Vilis Lapenieks in 1939 and director Varis Krūmiņš in 1957). In the first two months after the first release in 1939, the film was seen by 250,000 people. During the Soviet years, the regime considered the 1939 film ideologically problematic and created its own version.
The Fisherman's Son
Jaunāko ziņu spiestuve
Rocky Road (Akmeņainas ceļš )
As with many of the other novels by Vilis Lācis, Rocky Road was written as a work of literary realism and contains autobiographical elements: the self-made man, and fishing and labour motifs from the first half of the 20th century. The novel’s plot focuses on the lives of young people in 1930s Rīga. Roberts Līviņš, the ambitious and driven son of a labourer, gets his education and goes on to become an architect working at a wealthy construction company. Soon after his attainment of higher education, respectable employment and a “better” social echelon, he falls in love with the director’s daughter Līvija and is forced to forsake his earlier life, his roots, and his family. Roberts’s wealthy bride does not wish to become the wife of someone from a lower class and demands that her husband break off contact with his family; however, in the end Roberts understands that high society will never understand his origins or his best friend Ēriks, a gifted boxer who is travelling along his own “rocky road” with Roberts. Ēriks is another one of the physically strong characters created by Lācis.
Like other works by Lācis, Rocky Road was first published in a serialised form. When advertising this “new, interesting novel” prior to its publication, the magazine “Atpūta” wrote that in the novel “the author uses his cleverness and descriptive talents to portray the lives of the city’s youth, their mistakes and ambitions.”
About a contemporary reading of Unnecessary People and Journey to the City of Decline // Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji, 2014 [LV]Reviews
Biographical play about Vilis Lācis by Māra Zālīte // Diena.lv, 2009 [LV]
1952, USSR Award for To the New Shore
1949, USSR Award for Storm
1947, the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic Author Award