I wasn't anticipating buying this book. For Christmas, I had been given a sweet giftcard for my local indie bookseller. So I was browsing. I would have passed over this book; however, fate brought it to me. I just happened to glance at their section of award winners. Normally, I don't peruse that endcap as I often find the literature a bit too flowery or too high-brow for my tastes. But this day, I had the time to peek. And when I did, the cover of ALLTA&ET caught my eye. Yep, I said it. I'm a cover art whore. I judge books by their covers.
It's enchanting and sweet. And I suppose I could begin and end the review with just that one sentence. Because at it's core, that's how I want to remember the experience of reading this tale.
I love books with multiple narratives (partly because I feel like I get a bonus story and partly because it's a bit of a mystery to piece together how the two stories are linked). It doesn't take the reader long to figure out the connection between the World War II narrative of the romance between the Pigeon and Anielica and the more contemporary/mid 90's narrative of Baba Yaga. But it's still fascinating to trace the changes not just in characters but in the country of Poland itself.
I felt woefully naive about certain historical details while reading, but Pasulka is able to fill in gaps and paint a very real picture for the reader (or maybe it's more of an impressionist painting as there's always this glimmer of maybe walking in a daydream). All the same, the story left me hungry to do my own research and learn a bit more about Polish history.
The characters are so well drawn (perhaps because many were morphed from real life individuals Pasulka met in Poland). I cheated a bit and saw a sentence on the last page that had me angry. I don't want to spoil it by sharing what I read, but I was angry that Pasulka would create a sense of loss for her main character. I didn't think it was fair. But when I finally got to the end, I had forgiven her.
My husband came in while I read the final pages and saw tears streaming down my face, and (bless him for knowing me so well) said, "It's a good book if you are so impacted by it." And it's true because all I could squeak out in my tiny cry voice was, "It is painfully sad, but it is right and beautiful and hopeful and what love is all about."
When I started reading, I did not expect to be so enchanted by an aimless orphan shopping at the supermarket and the village super couple from the 1940's, but it was a rich and delicate treat of a book that left me smiling for days after I finished it.
I hope Ms. Pasulka writes more (whether they be set in Poland or not) because she captured the emotion of yearning so spot-on. [She is! New book due out early 2014!] I am in total awe!