Oak Park resident, professor, and author Karolis Gintaras Zukauskas, 36 - who writes under the pseudonym Gint Aras, based on his middle name - had a novel published this year.
Finding the Moon in Sugar, written entirely in prose, is narrated by the central character, Andrew Nowack - or, Andy, Drew, or D, depending on who's addressing him. Andrew, a young pot dealer from Berwyn, is seemingly clueless about almost everything in life; however, after an excursion to Lithuania in pursuit of an Internet bride who displayed some affection for him and then skipped town, Andrew begins to show hints of wisdom.
"Andy is kind of an unwise Socrates," Aras explains, referencing the character's ignorance and his eagerness to learn.
The story begins in Oak Park, where Andrew encounters a beautiful Lithuanian woman named Audra whose interest baffles him. Audra is the wife of one of his clients, which doesn't prevent him from chasing after her. When Audra returns to Lithuania, he sells everything in his possession and purchases a ticket to Vilnius, the capitol city of Lithuania, to hunt for her.
In Vilnius, Andrew lives a bohemian life of indulgence, immersing himself in the local culture and customs of the indigenous people he encounters, including Audra, whom he manages to locate.
His experiences in Lithuania allow him to question many of the decisions he has made in his life, what his next move will be, and to realize that Audra may not be the person he thought she was.
As the story unravels, he makes the decision to lead a much more structured life.
Much of Finding the Moon in Sugar mirrors Aras' own life experiences.
The author was born to Lithuanian immigrants in Cicero, where he lived until moving to Riverside at age 15. Aras' grandparents on both sides were among the estimated 11-20 million people displaced in Europe during World War II and fled Lithuania to avoid Soviet occupation. Both sides of the family lived in UN refugee camps in Germany for several years (his father's side of the family also briefly lived in England) before moving to Cicero in the 1950s.
The decision to set the majority of the story in Vilnius reflects Aras' own ethnicity and his familiarity with European culture - he lived in Vilnius for three months; and, in Linz, Austria for three years.
"I was there literally just existing, man," he chuckles, "running on fumes."
As does Andrew, taking things one day at a time.
Aras attended UIC for five semesters, then transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He completed an MFA in writing from Columbia University.
Aras now teaches courses in Developmental English and Humanities at Morton College, a community college in Cicero. He has expressed strong frustration with the local public school systems for not providing students with even the most fundamental education to prepare them for life after high school.
"This is a crisis," Aras says. "We have this inarticulate generation growing up that is going to be faced with severe challenges as a result of our negligence as professionals, as community leaders, and as basic servants of society."
Many of the students at Morton are products of Berwyn and Cicero high schools. Andrew's voice, in fact, is inspired by Aras' students.
"There is a very strong tradition in American letters to write in a colloquial language. It is a tradition that I really like, one that I thought I could expand upon," Aras observes. "There is something poetic about it and there is something really, really to-the-point about the way Andy looks at the world."
The wisdom Andrew exhibits suggests what Aras' students are capable of if placed in a nurturing environment.
"This is a working-class book," Aras says.