On the eve of World War II, in a place called Half-Village, a young man nicknamed the Pigeon falls in love with a girl fabled for her angelic looks. To court Anielica Hetmanská he offers up his "golden hands" to transform her familys modest hut into a beautiful home, thereby building his way into her heart.
Then war arrives to cut short their courtship, delay their marriage, and wreak havoc in all their lives, even sending the young lovers far from home to the promise of a new life in Kraków.
Nearly fifty years later, their granddaughter, Beata, repeats their postwar journey, seeking a new life in the fairy-tale city of her grandmothers stories. But when she arrives in Kraków, instead of the whispered prosperity of the New Poland, she discovers a city caught between its future and its past, and full of frustrated youths. Taken in by her toughtalking cousin Irena and Irenas glamorous daughter Magda, Beata struggles to find her own place in 1990s Kraków and in the constellation of Irena and Magdas fierce love. But unexpected events-- tragedies and miracles-- can change lives and open eyes. And Beata may just find a new way of seeing her family's and her country's history-- as well as a vision for her own role in the New Poland.
Whimsical, wise, beautiful, magical, and sometimes even heartbreaking, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True weaves together two remarkable stories, reimagining half a century of Polish history through the legacy of one unforgettable love affair.
A Faraway Land
The pigeon was not one to sit around and pine, and so the day after he saw the beautiful Anielica Hetmanska up on Old Baldy Hill, he went to talk to her father.
The Pigeons village was two hills and three valleys away, and he came upon her only by Providence, or "by chance," as some would start to say after the communists and their half-attempts at secularization.
He happened to be visiting his older brother, Jakub, who was living at the old sheep camp and tending the Hetmanski flock through the summer; she happened to be running an errand for the Fates and her father to drop off a bottle of his special herbal ovine fertility concoction. Ordinarily, of course, a maiden meeting with a bachelor alone - and over the matter of ovine procreation no less - would be considered verboten or nilzya or whatever the Polish equivalent was before the Nazis and the Soviets routed the language and appropriated all the words for forbiddenness. But the Pigeons brother, ...
A Long, Long Time Ago… And Essentially True packs a huge emotional punch, particularly toward the end as the two story lines converge. Pasulka shows her skill in these delicate sections with narrative that is touching without being melodramatic.
This is a novel that will likely appeal to a wide range of readers; and those who enjoy historical fiction, have a particular interest in Poland, or who simply take pleasure in top-notch writing will certainly want to put it high on their reading list. (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1283 words).
In A Long, Long Time Ago And Essentially True, one of the main characters, Beata, is constantly referred to by the nickname "Baba Yaga."
Baba Yaga is a popular figure in Slavic folk tales (Slavic language map). Also known as the "Old Woman of Autumn," her origins can be traced back to the ancient Slavic goddesses of birth and death. The derivation of her name is not clear: "baba," is an abbreviated form of the word "babushka," the Slavic term for an old woman or grandmother; but the origins of "Yaga," are more muddy - possibly it is a corruption of "yagat" (to abuse or find fault), possibly it is from a Proto-Slavic word meaning lazybones, or it could simply be a diminutive of the Slavic name Jadwiga...
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