A long long time ago in a little Polish village, on the eve of the Nazi invasion, there lived a girl so beautiful that she was called Anielica, because her face was that of an angel's. And there also lived a boy who was called the Pigeon, because his nose was as beaked and ugly as the bird's. The Angel was as kind as she was beautiful and the Pigeon, while not handsome, was smart and resourceful, confident and brave. In order to stand out from the scores of suitors who sought Anielica's hand, the Pigeon told her father that he would renovate their family home for free. Over the next months, the Pigeon became a fixture in Anielica's family, crafting furniture and cabinetry with his hands, befriending her brother, and slowly and sweetly finding a way into Anielica's heart. The love story of the Angel and the Pigeon is juxtaposed with the story of their granddaughter who, decades later, moves from the village to the big city of Krakow. Krakow is bustling with the freedom brought about by the fall of communism, and she must discover her place in this New Poland.
Why I read this book:
- I am a sucker for cool titles.
- Look at that cover. Doesn't that look like the cover of a fairy tale?
- Historical fiction set in WWII Europe is one of my favorite genres.
What I loved:
As much as I love a swashbuckling hero, handsome of face and brawny of body, I absolutely ADORED the Pigeon. The fact that the Ugly Duckling: a) knows his own value, b) has the wits to win Anielica's and her father's favor over all of his competitors, and c) has the guts to go after what he wants even if he isn't great to look at just does it for me. And talk about guts: he not only wins Anielica's heart, he saves the village from first the Nazis and then the Soviets and he leads a band of Polish partisans.
What I didn't love:
The granddaughter of the Pigeon and Anielica is only referred to as Baba Yaga. She, being the Pigeon's granddaughter, is as ugly as the Baba Yaga of folklore: the craggy old witch in the woods. So the reader follows Baba Yaga in her attempts at love and education and self-discovery. At the end of the book we discover Baba Yaga's real name, but it's not a big revelation. In the end it's just a name, just like every other, and I'm not sure why her hideous nickname and her ugliness were emphasized so much. We already get that she's just an awkward village girl in the Big Bad City. It just seems so wrong to call a young girl ugly and that made me wince over and over.
I just wasn't as captivated by Baba Yaga's storyline. I couldn't see where the author was going with it. I was looking for a love story... Will it be Tadeusz or Sebastian? When I discovered I was off-track, I looked for evidence that she was going to pursue a dream: a career or emigration to America. Scratch that, too. Eventually, the two storylines dovetail into a satisfying and heartbreaking ending, but I was more compelled by the WWII story.
The Sweetest Thing:
During the renovation of her home, Anielica is too shy to talk to the Pigeon directly, but she leaves him little notes where he can find them. These are the words by which they begin to fall in love:
I AM MISSING MY SECOND MOLAR ON THE LEFT SIDE, BOTTOM.
ONCE I WAKE UP, I CAN"T FALL BACK ASLEEP.
SOMETIMES I READ BOOKS THAT MY PARENTS WOULD NOT LIKE.
I LOVE TO WATCH YOU WORK.
3/5 stars. Sweet and whimsical. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True may appeal to fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.