Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: The Lullaby of Polish Girls

Summary: 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. -- Spiegel & Grau

Recently, I was talking about books with one of my favorite people Adriana Trigiani, and she told me that I had to get my hands on a copy of THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS by Dagmara Dominczyk. So upon arriving back home, I discovered that our local library had a few copies and I reserved one right away. It wasn't long before I received the email telling me that my copy was ready!

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS follows the lives of three women who have been friends since their teens. Anna, an actress living in New York whose parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, has never quite felt like she belonged in this country. However, when she turned twelve, her parents allowed her to visit her grandmother in Poland; and Anna immediately felt like she belonged, especially when she became friends with Justyna and Kamila. Every summer, Anna returned to Poland; and the three girls picked up right where they left off.

The girls are now adults and their lives aren't exactly what they had hoped for. Anna is a struggling actress who is being told that she needs to lose weight to get a role and Kamila has left her husband and moved to Detroit to live with her parents. However, things are even worse for Justyna. Her husband has been brutally murdered and she's left to bring up their child alone. When Anna and Kamila learn about what has happened to Justyna, they decide that they need to head back to Poland to help support her.

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS is a beautifully written novel and it's almost hard to believe that it's Ms. Dominczyk's first book. The story goes back and forth between the summers in Poland when the girls were teenagers to their present day lives. It explores the depths of their friendships as well as the difficulties they've faced as adults, and it seems to me to be a very honest portrayal of these three women's lives.

I admit that I wanted to read this book because Adriana suggested it to me, but there was also another reason -- I an a quarter Polish. My father's father is 100% Polish (my maiden name was Stasik) and he can even speak and read a little despite being born in the United States. I realized when I started reading THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS that I knew next to nothing about Poland, and I was intrigued by learning about these characters' immigration stories. Of course, my family came to the U.S. long before the characters in this novel and for entirely different reasons (or maybe not -- I'm not exactly sure); however, it was interesting to see what Poland was like in the 1980s including the country's political environment.

One thing that struck me about THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS was how intense and raw this story was. I mentioned earlier that this novel had strong friendship themes; however, it wasn't a feel good story like so many novels that deal with these themes. Rather, the characters and their actions were, at times, almost gritty; and their lives as immigrants definitely weren't easy. After finishing this novel, I learned that some of it was based on the author's actual experiences; and I think this gave the book an extra special feeling of authenticity.

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS would make a wonderful book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide. Having said that, I'm almost positive that you won't need one. There are so many compelling issues to discuss including friendship, immigration, prejudice, love, forgiveness, and redemption. These three women are each fascinating in their own right and their behavior could be analyzed for hours!

I should have known that Adriana Trigiani wouldn't let me down with a book recommendation. Take her word for it (and mine!), and check out THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Obviously this one is appealing to me because my husband immigrated here in 1979 (and his dad was active in Solidarity...he was even imprisoned for awhile). I don't have a drop of Polish blood in me, but his heritage is something I've embraced, and have heard so many stories. The fact that Adriana so highly recommended this book is just one more reason to get it.

Beth F said...

Between you and Adriana, how can I resist?

bermudaonion said...

I love an immigrant story and this sounds like a good one!!

Have you read Mila 18 by Leon Uris?

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

I like immigrant stories too. I haven't read many books based in Poland either and I like different settings. Thanks for the review!