Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chicago Author Month: A Long, Long Time Ago And Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

I have no idea how A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True escaped my attention for so long. Somehow it made it onto The Bookstore shelves, both in hardcover and paperback, without finding a champion among our booksellers. Only recently did I learn that the author was from Chicago, an English Teacher at Whitney Young Magnet School, and the winner of last year's PEN/Hemingway Award.

What a perfect book to add to my list for Chicago Author Month. Especially because this book is set in Poland and is written by a descendant of Polish immigrants -- and Chicago just happens to have the largest population of Polish-speaking people living outside of Poland.

I am now utterly devoted to this book. I've already been raving about it to my friends and customers, and I've tucked one of our blue staff recommendation cards between its pages. I feel like I've just found a new go-to recommendation in paperback. I'm just sorry I'm so late to the game.

For our customers who haven't yet discovered this book's charms, it's a two-part story: one told like an enchanted fairytale, beginning with a love story in a small Polish village on the eve of World War II, and the other told 50 years later, as the lovers' granddaughter comes of age in modern Krakow, searching for her past and her future at the same time. The elders' experiences during the German occupation, such as hiding in the forest with the Polish resistance, brought to mind some of the things I enjoyed about the movie Defiance. The granddaughter's quest reminded me a little of Jonathon Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated.

In a video interview on her own website, Brigid Pasulka explained that Long, Long Time Ago was based on a combination of "essentially true" stories that she gathered from her own experiences while on post-college visits to Krakow. She tells how she used to sit down and ask older Poles to tell her stories, and they did. In that way, Brigid bears some resemblance to the granddaughter in the book, who realizes that the often heartbreaking stories of her grandparents' generation should be preserved and savored.

There were times when the modern story, which features a "lost generation" of young people in post-Communist Poland of the 1990's, didn't seem able to hold its own weight against the intensity, romance and magic of the older tale. However, the book eventually wove the two stories together, giving the granddaughter a sense of purpose, identity and history. What a nice ending. Highly recommended, with a special thumbs up for our book clubs.

Please stop in and check out Brigid Pasulka's book on our Chicago Author Shelf next time you're in downtown Glen Ellyn. In the meantime, you might enjoy exploring her website.

A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $13.95)

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