A debut about Poland from a high-school teacher living in Chicago.
The villagers mistake The Pigeon for a simpleton, but he’s wise in the ways of the heart. Smitten with gorgeous Anielica, he beseeches her father to let him renovate their home—for free. After setting her protagonist to work building a wall “to keep out the wild boars and the Gypsies,” Pasulka constructs a family epic sweeping from 1939 to the 1990s, the aftermath of Solidarity and its triumvirate of “pope, Walesa, and Milosz.” Having won her heart, The Pigeon supports Anielica through the hell of World War II, shooting a Soviet trying to burn the cherished home he rebuilt; his wife also proves indomitable, fighting off a Nazi attempting to rape her daughter. Fleeing to Kraków, they begin life anew. There, a half-century later, in the New Poland of “Adidas shoes, VCRs, Fuji film, lipstick” and other free-market wonders, their granddaughter Baba Yaga aims at fortune. But, as her clear-eyed cousin Irena quips, “capitalists are just communists without the polyester,” and times are still tough. Befriending Irena’s daughter, a new-style free spirit whose partying compromises her ambition to become a prosecutor, Baba Yaga works as a bar girl and falls for Tadeusz, one of Kraków’s up-and-coming clarinetists. Tadeusz, however, is torn between family pressure to join the army to land a secure career and the urges of his soul (music, Baba Yaga). Their love story, a distorted mirroring of Baba Yaga’s grandparents’ idealistic romance, encapsulates the complications and frustrations of modern Poland, whose earlier generations found themselves pitted against more straightforward, if fiercer, foes.
Pasulka suggests that economic chaos and grappling toward new political identity may require a subtler heroism than war does.