- Book: The Lullaby of Polish Girls
- Location: Kielce, United States (USA)
- Author: Dagmara Dominczyk
Anna Baran moves with her family to the United States in the 1980’s. Her father’s role in the Solidarity movement gives them political refugee status, but also means that he can never return to Poland. The family settle in Brooklyn in an area filled with immigrants of every stripe but the young Anna still feels like an outsider. Then, when she is almost thirteen, she is taken back to Kielce for a brief visit and finds a place that feels like home. More importantly, she also finds that she is suddenly the centre of attention amongst the group of children who hang around the carpet beater outside her grandmother’s block of flats. For the first time, Anna is the coolest kid, the one everyone wants for their best friend. She forms an intense and lasting friendship with two local girls – beautiful but rather wild Justyna and plain, awkward Kamila. This friendship survives over the years, sustained by Anna’s summer visits to Kielce.
The Lullaby of Polish Girls follows these three best friends from their early teenage years as they fumble through their first encounters with boys to their flawed and disappointing adult lives, when a shocking murder pulls the three women back together again and back to Kielce.
Dagmara Dominczyk’s carefully constructed narrative flashes back and forward from the wild summers of the girls’ youth, full of dreams and aspirations, to their adult years, characterised by loss and disappointment. Her writing is honest to the point of brutality at times. Sharp and full of grit, it leaves images in your mind that are hard to shift – like Justyna’s brutal tryst with Kowalski or Anna’s even more brutal loss of virginity. It may make for difficult reading at times, but Dominczyk evokes the anguish of adolescence better than anyone I can think of.
The Lullaby of Polish Girls also explores the plight of the immigrant, as only someone who has known it could do. She allows the reader to experience the desperate struggle to fit in and to make a meaningful life but the novel is ultimately a sad one. Life in the USA corrupts the immigrants and none of the characters make a success of their lives. Dominczyk’s three women are not always likeable but it’s clear that she loves them; their lives are complicated and flawed but she manages to make the reader care for them too and ultimately the return to Poland and their childhood friendships offers some hope.
Dominczyk’s novel is chock full of sensory description; she creates the place so vividly that the reader can almost smell it – “burning haystacks and fresh laundry, like sunshine and sausage, piquant and fresh at the same time.” Inevitably too, the novel is stuffed full of Polish food and, if you’re a foody like me, it will make you think of a trip there if only to investigate the gastronomic delights of pierozki , jagody and truskawki.
It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel and I’ll be first in the queue at the bookshop for the next one.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team
Read Ellen’s full review on our blog: https://www.tripfiction.com/novel-set-in-poland-us/