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A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True Paperback – May 18, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Pasulka's delightful debut braids together two tales of old and new Poland. The old is the fairy tale love story of the Pigeon, a young man so entranced by village beauty Anielica that he builds her family a house to prove his devotion. When war comes to Poland, the Pigeon works for the resistance, guarding the town and his Jewish sister-in-law with creativity and bravery. After the war, he and Anielica get engaged and the Pigeon brings his family to Kraków, but the fabled promises of the golden city and the glories of communism prove hollow. The new tale is about Anielica and the Pigeon's granddaughter, Beata, whose plainness has earned her the nickname Baba Yaga. Now living in a much-changed Kraków, Beata is a bar girl with no hopes of love or plans for the future. When tragedy strikes and Beata uncovers family secrets, she brings together the old and new to create her own bright future. Pasulka creates a world that's magical despite the absence of magical happenings, and where Poland's history is bound up in one family's story. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Prize for Fiction
 
"In this life-affirming novel of past and present, Brigid Pasulka twines the bright colors of  fable with the subtler tones of disillusionment, survival, and rebirth—incarnating not only her characters and their lives, but Poland itself. Rarely does a novel succeed so well in evoking place and history, especially with a story as winning as this one. A marvelous debut."
—Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef and Lost in Translation

 

"Two lives, a grandmother's and her granddaughter's, are knit together in a finely wrought tapestry that illuminates an inheritance of a less familiar kind. At once haunting and exquisitely vibrant, Pasulka's original tale is a treasure, transcending history, time, and place." -- Martha McPhee, author of Gorgeous Lies

 

"Pasulka’s delightful debut braids together two tales of old and new Poland. . . . Pasulka creates a world that’s magical despite the absence of magical happenings, and where Poland’s history is bound up in one family’s story." --Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

 

"Grand in scope, yet meticulous in detail, Brigid Pasulka's generous and affectionate novel finds universal truths in both its most-dramatic moments and its most-intimate observations. A compassionate, elegant, and moving debut." --Adam Langer, author of Crossing California

 

"Funny and romantic like all the best true stories." -- Charlotte Mendelson, author of When We Were Bad

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (May 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547336284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547336282
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Audrey M. Neal on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Years ago, I became a huge fan of novels that used myths and fairy tales as a way to reimagine and retell other stories. The best of these books straddle a line between fantasy and reality, literary fiction and genre fiction. Pasulka's novel is one of these books.

Told through alternating narratives, Pasulka mixes folksy language and fairy-tale elements to tell the story of Pigeon and Nela's relationship with a more modern narrative voice and plot sequence for Beata's day-to-day life in Krakow. The movement between the two narratives never gets confusing, nor does it grow tiresome. Instead, the mundane details of Beata's life at the bar and at home provide an interesting contrast to the more general and dreamlike quality of Nela's story.

This is a culture and a city that I'm unfamiliar with, for the most part, but I thought that Pasulka's lively characters and her attention to detail really helped to define this country and its growing pains for me -- a growth that is beautifully reflected through Beata's own struggle to determine her own life and make her own choices. I really connected to her as a character, and I found myself thinking about her and the decisions she made (or didn't make) even when I wasn't reading the novel, which doesn't happen to me all that often. The other characters are just as three-dimensional and defined, and while they often embody any number of stereotypes (which is common in mythic fiction), Pasulka adds more depth and dimension to what are usually fairly flat characters.

The writing is lively, and while I loved the characters, the plot, and the themes at work, it was the writing itself that made this book such a pleasure to read. There's such a range of emotion at work here too -- humor, heartbreak, hope.
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By Ecotorium on September 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brigid went above and beyond in this novel. I laughed. I cried. I pined for more. And yet, I wasn't left wanting. It wasn't a Hollywood production. This is life. This book makes you feel as though you're hearing the first hand stories from the people who lived them. I can't give enough praise.

The strength of these people is awe-inspiring . All of which faced their own present day issues. Brigid's descriptions build the scene around you. You don't guess, you simply read. Her wit is something to marvel at. Her detail is uncanny. I couldn't put the book down. I didn't want it to end, and yet, I felt satisfied at the end.

Brigid, as well as her book, is simply brilliant.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This tale follows two young women - Anielica and her granddaughter Beata, known primarily by the rather cruel name of Baba Yaga. The two tales have very different tones. Anielica's story, the love story of Anielica and the Pigeon, is told from a distance, like any good fairy tale. It is the proper kind of fairy tale, with violence and without a perfect Disney ending, and all the more likeable for that. At its heart is the famously beautiful Anielica, who proves herself time and again to be just as strong as she is beautiful.

Baba Yaga's story, on the other hand, is told in the first person and the reader forms a much more intimate bond her. Baba Yaga seems rudderless in a way Anielica never was. Anielica lived in difficult times, but she had a close family and village to rely on through all of that. She also had the Pigeon (who, despite his less-than-dashing moniker, makes an excellent and steadfast romantic hero). Baba Yaga has her cousins Irena and Magda but, as the novel opens, she hardly knows them. She, unlike her grandmother, has many choices, but finds those choices paralyzing. Anielica's story is a love story; Baba Yaga's is a coming of age story. It is wonderful to find both handled so capably in the same volume, giving us not one but two strong and complex female characters.
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A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka is a wonderful read. The alternating stories of Poland's past and Poland's present are an effective way to understand the long oppressed country and the people who coped then and now with spirit and resourcefulness. The Love story Of Anielica and Pigeon is a parallel story to the love story to Poland itself.....the countryside,the villages, the goralka.....and to the city of Krakow. By interweaving the past and present we come to see a past Poland struggling for independence, supressed by opressors, resourceful, loyal, and long suffering evolving into the modern Poland of dispirited youth, struggling with changes that need time to take root and an aimlessness that cries out for direction. It is through connections with the past that the modern characters can move forward, flourish and transform. I think the fairy tale style of wartime Poland lends a beautiful tone to the story of a country in progress where the past is so inextricably a part of how the country evolves and is reborn. After all isn't it through the told and retold stories of our own grandparents and great grandparents that we come to know who we really are.? Pasulka realized this and used it beautifully to write her love story to Poland.
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Format: Hardcover
Just read the book whilst in Krakow on a long weekend break recently; the author paints a very accurate picture of war-time and 1990's Krakow and is clearly in love with the city itself. A fascinating story (or rather two inter-linked stories from the two different era's). At first, I thought the dialogue read like a poor translation of spoken Polish, and I wasn't sure from the first couple of chapters where the narrative was going. Also, almost "missing out" a whole generation (Baba-Yaga's parents) from the story by virtually "killing them off" seemed a bit contrived and felt a bit too implausible. This still is a powerfull book, though, despite these relativly minor criticisms. Very "unputdownable" with some harrowing scenes, some very funny scenes and a very moving ending. The characters are very strongly depicted, and definately "come alive". I'm not sure how strongly the author was inspired by "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"- both books have very similar themes, but whatever, this is a highly recommended book, with a strong love and understanding of Krakow and Poland.
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