The novel opens on the eve of World War II. In the mountain village of Half-Village, a young man nicknamed the Pigeon, under the approving eyes of the entire village, courts the beautiful Anielica Hetmanska. But the war's arrival wreaks havoc in all their lives and delays their marriage for six long years. Nearly 50 years later, their granddaughter, Beata, leaves Half-Village for Krakow, the place where her grandparents lived as newlyweds after the war and the setting of her grandmother's most magical stories. Beata yearns to find her own place in this new city, one that is very different from her imagination and the past. Her first person insight into a country on the cusp of change--and the human toll of Poland's rapid-fire embrace of capitalism--transports readers to another world.
When two unexpected events occur, one undeniably tragic, and the other a kind of miracle, Beata is given a fresh glimpse at her family's and her country's, history and a vision of her own essential role in the New Poland. With the effortless, accomplished grace of a gifted storyteller, Pasulka weaves together the two strands of her story, re-imagining half a century of Polish history through the legacy of one profound love affair--that of the Pigeon and Anielica--which readers won't soon forget.
With her informed Polish accent and remarkable insight, Cassandra Campbell seems astonishingly familiar with the country and culture she represents in her narration of A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True. Campbell captures the subtle differences between each voice through pitch, dialect, and emotion. In a novel packed with so many Eastern European characters, Campbell acquaints the listener with each unique individual, guiding us through Brigid Pasulka’s intricate narrative.
Pasulka weaves two stories in alternating chapters that come together by the novel’s end. The first is the story of Anielica and the Pigeon, a young couple living in Half Village whose plans for a life together are thwarted by Hitler’s invasion of Poland in the 1930s. The other story is of their granddaughter, Beata, whose captivating search for identity takes place in post-communism Krakow in the 1990s. As Anielica and the Pigeon struggle to survive in Old Poland, their beloved village is torn apart by the carnage of World War II. While their sacrifices are substantial, we know that they are made so that future generations could live in a more peaceful Poland (as illustrated by Beata’s complementary narrative). Although Beata has little family left to raise her, she finds comfort and a sense of place in Krakow with her aunt and cousin. Her journey is one that will ultimately allow her a stronger sense of identity with her family who suffered years ago in Old Poland.
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is both heartbreaking and hopeful. When an unprecedented tragedy strikes towards the end of the novel, the characters find unity and solace in their country and in one another. Pasulka’s novel is comprised of fairy tale love that exists both for the characters and for Krakow. Campbell pulls us into Poland with her sharp narration, enveloping the listener in the country’s endless culture and history. Suzanne Day
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The Old & New Worlds Converge & Transcend Time
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