Title/Author: A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
Publisher/Year: Mariner Books 2009
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
How I Got This Book: I got it from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I love when you read a book thinking that it will probably be just a decent read but you begin to read and realize that you have a gem in your hands–a gem that you end up really loving. A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True was that kind of experience for me.
Pasulka skillfully intertwines the two threads of the story until they become one–inextricably bound by Poland’s history and the hope of a better future. The stories are told in alternating chapters. I’ve read books where the transitions feels awkward and jumbled and I find myself forgetting or getting bored with one storyline. Pasulka delicately handled these transitions in a way that made sense. She ended the chapters right where they needed to end and I was able to effortlessly glide through the book. I really appreciated this.
The first of the story lines revolves around Pigeon and Anielica Hetmanski and their love story which is sweet and innocent but tragic in ways. The progression of their relationship was one of my favorite parts of the story. Their love story is forever changed by World War II (this isn’t a war story, I promise) as they must deal with the immediate dangers of war along with the rebuilding in the aftermath. The second storyline springs forward to modern Poland with Baba Yaga (the granddaughter of Anielica) as she comes to the city after the death of her grandmother and tries to grapple with her culture and finding her place in Krakow. Baba Yaga is a endearing heroine in my mind as she grows. I found her so relateable as a young woman–she isn’t strong in a traditional sense, she isn’t sure about herself or her future, and she sells her self short time and time again.
My only major qualm with this gem of a book is this: I don’t mind when an author sprinkles the native language of the characters into the narrative as long as I am able to deduce the meaning of the word from the “context clues.” (oh hey there 5th grade language lessons.) I feel like the author used way too many Polish words and it wasn’t always clear what they meant.
I would highly recommend this debut novel. Her writing is magical in itself and her characters are alive and complex. There are beautiful little mini love stories throughout but not in the mushy gushy way–so real you could mistake them for the stories of your own grandparents or great grandparents. This book is full of wit, wisdom, and hope–all needed to balance the heartbreak and tragedy. It pays homage to the lives of those who had to live through the War/Communist regime and the generation who had to move forward with those pieces.
You will be moved. I’m just warning you.
*THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON 7/15 but WordPress ate it when I transferred from Blogger to WP. BOO.*