A vibrant, engaging debut novel that follows the friendship of three women from their youthful days in Poland to their complicated, not-quite-successful adult lives.
Because of her father's role in the Solidarity movement, Anna and her parents immigrate to the United States in the 1980s as political refugees from Poland. They settle in Brooklyn among immigrants of every stripe, yet Anna never quite feels that she belongs. But then, the summer she turns twelve, she is sent back to Poland to visit her grandmother, and suddenly she experiences the shock of recognition. In her family's hometown of Kielce, Anna develops intense friendships with two local girls - brash and beautiful Justyna and desperately awkward Kamila - and their bond is renewed every summer when Anna returns. The Lullaby of Polish Girls follows these three best friends from their early teenage years on the lookout for boys in Kielce - a town so rough its citizens are called "the switchblades" - to the loss of innocence that wrecks them, and the stunning murder that reaches across oceans to bring them back together after they've grown and long since left home.
Dagmara Dominczyk's assured narrative flashes from the wild summers of the girls' youth to their years of self-discovery in New York and Europe. Her writing is full of grit and guts, and her descriptions of the emotional experiences of her characters resonate with honesty. The Lullaby of Polish Girls captures the passion and drama of friendship, the immigrant's yearning to be known, and the exquisite and wistful transformation of young women coming of age.
Looking back, Anna Baran could pinpoint the exact moment she'd fallen in love with Ben Taft. They were lying on his mattress, covers thrown off and sharing a cigarette, when Anna closed her eyes and asked him the question she'd been wanting to ask for weeks.
"Did you ever imagine you'd end up with a Polish girl?"
Ben looked at her and arched one eyebrow. "In bed? Or in life?" Anna blushed, but thankfully Ben continued. "Never. I didn't even know where Poland was on the map."
"And now?" Anna whispered, placing her hands between his warm thighs.
"Now? Now I know there's a lot more to your country than meets the kielbasa."
Anna rolled her eyes but silently urged him on, hoping he would get it right.
"I know Warsaw isn't the only city there. I know not every last name ends in -ski. The language is tough as hell but I could listen to it all day. It's the land of amber, crystal, salt ...
Dominczyk's weakness lies in story development. While she is skilled at building characters, the story that binds them together seems overly contrived at times, eventually barreling into a pretty melodramatic conclusion. Nevertheless The Lullaby of Polish Girls is worth reading for its strong sense of place and the light it shines on the bittersweet process of growing up and moving on.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (952 words).
Much of The Lullaby of Polish Girls is set in the Polish city of Kielce (pronounced Kyell-tsay). The author, Dagmara Dominczyk, is a native of the city and she paints a beautiful picture of Kielce, not just of its tourist attractions but of small draws favored by locals like the Relaks cafe where "families and tourists flooded the place on weekends, lounging on blankets, renting kayaks, and taking strolls uphill to the Relaks for cold beer and French fries that were served in cone-shaped napkins with tiny plastic forks."
With a population of a little more than 200,000, the city is located to the south of the capital, Warsaw, and is the capital of the Swietokrzyskie voivodship (province). Kielce is known for its scenic vistas, as it is at...
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