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A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  1,513 Ratings  ·  305 Reviews
Late-20th-century Kraków, where every stone and every brick is dear, and whose walls, when gazed upon by Pope John Paul II, inspired a heartfelt tribute. But many years earlier, a young man courted the beautiful Anielica Hetmanska with the promise that his "golden hands" could renovate her family's cottage from the ground up. With patience and persistence, he won her heart ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 12th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Co (first published 2009)
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Mar 26, 2012 Rosie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to admit, I got this book at a borders going out of business sale specifically because I liked the cover art. I think subconsciously, the title and art reminded me of "everything is illuminated" and "extremely loud and incredibly close" I didn't realize this might be why i picked it up until i got to the second chapter and thought "hmm, two different time periods this sounds familiar". Initially, foolishly, I thought "this seems like a rip off, I'm sure I'm going to hate it" and to be ...more
Jamie (The Perpetual Page-Turner)
I love when you read a book thinking that it will probably be just a decent read but you begin to read and realize that you have a gem in your hands--a gem that you end up really loving. A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True was that kind of experience for me.

Pasulka skillfully intertwines the two threads of the story until they become one--inextricably bound by Poland's history and the hope of a better future. The stories are told in alternating chapters. I've read books where the transit
Jul 26, 2011 Stacy rated it it was amazing
I really, really enjoyed this book. Firstly, I'm a history nerd, so I loved reading the story of Poland from it's (brief) independence between the two world wars, to it's struggle for survival during WWII, to it's suppression and subversion during the Soviet era, to the ""New Poland"" that is struggling to find itself during the post-Cold War world. This book is told in two different eras--one in pre-during-post WWII Poland and one in the ""New Poland"" of the 1990s. To be honest, it took me a f ...more
Mark Landmann
Aug 17, 2014 Mark Landmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, favourites
It was a pleasure to listen to. It wasn't a short book but I never once looked at my figurative watch. Characters that I fully believed in and wanted to root for. Wonderful dialogue that made me laugh. I guess I want to describe it as a sweet story - even though of course many bad things happened, as any story of Poland since '39 would have to. But it's told in a smart, soft, humorous, ironic tone. I very much enjoyed the back and forth between the historical and more recent narratives and thoug ...more
Nov 04, 2012 Erin rated it it was ok
Brigid Pasulka’s first novel, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, alternates two chronological settings by chapter. The “long, long time ago” follows Pigeon and Angelicia in Poland just before and during World War Two in third person omniscient, and the “present” is narrated in the first person perspective of ‘Baba Yaga’ (a poorly explained nickname with little apparent significance). It isn’t until a good way into the narrative that the relationship between the two chronologies becomes ...more
Mar 03, 2012 Kim rated it it was amazing
The tears are still fresh in my eyes from the end of this beautiful novel. I enjoyed this book so much more than I expected to when it was chosen for our book club or even during the first quarter of the story. I had honestly grown weary of WWII novels, because I've read so many and because they are all so heart-wrenching. But the thing is that there are so many stories ... so many sides to the suffering, the loss, the choices and compromises. And so many great stories of hope and love and kindn ...more
Gabi Coatsworth
I found this book hard to read until I abandoned the alternating points of view and read one story through to the end and then the other. It made everything less confusing I was able to enjoy both stories. There is much to admire here. Brigid Pasulka clearly gets the mind set of Poles both currently and during the war. However, the wartime love story suffered from a lack of space compared with the contemporary one. I speak Polish and was puzzled by the seemingly random use of Polish words where ...more
May 01, 2015 Kristina rated it really liked it
“The Pigeon was not one to sit around and pine, and so the day after he saw the beautiful Anielica Hetmańska up on Old Baldy Hill, he went to talk to her father” (1). So begins A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka. This is a beautifully written novel that explores themes of survival, patience, love and sacrifice. It alternates between the story of a young man who falls in love with Anielica from Half-Village just before World War II begins and Poland after the fall of comm ...more
Dec 21, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it
It's between 3 and a 4 stars for me. I went with 4 because I am still thinking about it. I liked the interweaving of stories of different generations of family and the stories were good (could have been great?), but I think what makes me still think about it is the tie to my Polish heritage. I thought that the author, coming to Poland to learn the language and culture and going around interviewing folks to get their stories, was wonderful.

I did think that dropping in the Polish words (there wer
Jan 02, 2012 Melinda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
I am reviewing the version of this book.

I didn't know what to expect from this book....but I truly loved it. It goes back and forth between the WWII years in Poland and the immediate aftermath and Poland in the 80's and 90's where change is still on the brink as they shed off their Soviet clothing and remember who they are as Poles. It flows easily between the two eras and the two eras are brought together in the end in a most beautiful, soft and complete way... the author didn't ha
May 18, 2014 Laurel rated it really liked it
I'm biased because I lived in Poland for a year and speak Polish. I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a fascinating storyline and also SO TRUE to Poland. The characters were very real to me (I think, since Ms. Pasulka spent some time in Poland, she wrote true to the people). I always found it curious how so many Polish people are fiercely defensive of their country, yet simultaneously despise it and believe that life is better anywhere outside its borders. The same sentiment seems to ap ...more
Susan Storm
Sep 04, 2009 Susan Storm rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I really loved this book; it is exactly my 'type' of book if I were to have a type. Baba Yaga, or Beata, is a completely relatable character who I really felt like I understood. The romance in the book is also really beautiful, it was a real romance that didn't depend on harlequin-esque ramblings or sensuous details. At the end of the book, even though things didn't turn out as I hoped for everyone, I felt a certain sense of peace about it all, like there was definitely a lesson to be learned an ...more
I read this book to lead a book discussion at the library. It's not a book that I would have necessarily picked up on my own, but I'm glad I did. It's beautifully written and the characters are all so tangible. I was a little cautious since it's yet another WWII book, but it was done so well, and the focus wasn't completely on the war - and didn't take place strictly during that time period.

I found that I had a hard time putting it down. Not that it's suspense, it's just so beautiful and I wante
May 17, 2017 Anna marked it as dnf
I don't usually give up on books after 20 pages, or if I do I just remove them from my shelves altogether, but in this case I feel a need to explain myself.

My issue with this book is that it's a typical case of an American discovering their pre-migration roots. It's so obvious that Pasulka tries to throw all the grasped elements of Polish culture, history, and, especially, language at the reader all the time. I don't know how much time she put into research but it. Was. Not. Enough. The biggest
I feel bad for this book. It's not that it's a terrible book, it just was completely not what I was in the mood for. I thought about just putting it down and picking it back up later, but then worried I would just never pick it back up again. I am just never in the mood for Let Me Tell You About How Much Life Sucked books.

I mean, World War II Poland: bad. Soviet Poland: bad. Post-Soviet Poland: a little better, but still bad.

There were two stories going on. The first is about Pigeon wooing loc
Jill Furedy
Jun 29, 2012 Jill Furedy rated it really liked it
Yes, the cover did make me pick up this book. A fairy tale kind of title, with little drawings of sheep and musicians and film and planes among vines and flowers...I had to see what this book was. And the blurb mentioned war, romance, all stuff I've read before, but the fairy tale-esque description inside "a place called Half Village...a girl fabled for her angelic looks...his "golden hands" made me think it wouldn't be the typical tragic war romance novel. But the book didn't read quite as fair ...more
Jan 18, 2010 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Charming, funny, sad, witty, moving...all these describe this gorgeous first novel by Brigid Pasulka. Set in both World War II and present Poland (and the times in between), A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is a ringing affirmation of the value of sacrifice of one generation for the next, whether for the building of a family or a nation.

The story is built in alternating chapters. One set tells the tale of a family in a remote Polish mountain village starting just before the German inva
Jun 17, 2010 Daisy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Magdalena S.
Recommended to Daisy by: Chrissie's shelf
This is just my kind of book.

"Baking for yourself is always better than baking for a husband."

That thing was that a woman's heart is not bought by the currency of a man's emotion for her. A woman's heart is won over by her own feelings for herself when he just happens to be around...

"But I thought you protested against the communists."
"Phooh. That was before I found our that capitalists are just communists without the polyester."

But the words coming from his mouth were too abundant to be reassu
Jun 17, 2010 Chrissie rated it it was ok
Shelves: hf, poland, kirkus, kindle, sample-g
The content of this novel focuses on life in Krakow, Poland, during and after WW2, through to the period when communism was finally overthrown. Life during the war was difficult, but so was the time after. The central issue of this novel, as of so many others, is not anti-Semitism. The time period covers the tumult of events after the war, Stalinism, Communism, corruption, but the main focus was on the personal lives of struggling individuals. I should have been pulled me in more than I was. Per ...more
This book appealed to the "-zewski" part of my family's former last name. Being of part Polish heritage, but not knowing anything about it, I sometimes yearn to know more about my family's history and culture. That's what drew me to Pasulka's debut book.

Two stories of very different Polands appear in alternate chapters. We see the rural Poland of World War II and those wrapped up in the Resistance, and we also see a modern young Polish woman struggling with her identity and culture.

I loved the l
Aug 10, 2009 Susan rated it it was amazing
I will tell you up front that I know (or knew) this author from several years ago, and she is someone I admire very much. It's hard for me to describe her without sounding like some kind of deranged fan...but whatever, she's just an all-around amazing person. Thus, when I heard she had written her first novel, I immediately bought my copy. And then it sat on my bookshelf, for almost a year. I finally realized I hesitated to read this book because, honestly, I was afraid it would be just awful. N ...more
Lydia Presley
Jul 22, 2009 Lydia Presley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, germany
And the Pigeon was no glupek about women either. He had learned something aobut them from his eight sisters, and if over the years he had absorbed only this one thing, it would stand as vindication that a boy does not suffer needlessly from growing up in a house with eight sisters. That thing was that a woman's heart is not bought by the currency of a man's emotion for her. A woman's heart is won over by her own feelings for herself when hej ust happens to be around, and as the hut slowly transf ...more
Jan 19, 2010 Tara rated it liked it
This book contains two stories one that takes place in WWII and the other in present day, The WWII story was almost like a fairy tale (in fact it was almost like it was the story the grandmother had told). Baba Yaga is the granddaughter who is the main character of the present day story and after her grandmother passes away she now lives with her cousin and her aunt. Her aunt, Irena, and her cousin were by far the most colorful characters in the story. I loved them. I immediately took a liking t ...more
Christine Rebbert
Nov 03, 2009 Christine Rebbert rated it it was amazing
Ash and I were at the library and she picked this up because of the cover art -- then when she read the jacket, handed it to me. Yep, another WWII memoir, but a novel this time, and it has two alternating-by-chapter voices -- what happened in the late 30's, early '40's, in Poland; and then the granddaughter of the main characters from the earlier days living in a different, modern-day Poland. Having just read "Clara's War", and now this, I feel I certainly know a whole lot more about WWII in Pol ...more
Apr 09, 2011 Melee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: other-favourites
It is with regret I mark this book as "finished"; I didn't want it to end.
From the first chapter I was hooked. As usual, I was afraid to love it for fear that it would take some unforeseen turn to make me dislike it. But, though it did take some unforeseen turns, I kept loving it right down to the bittersweet, beautiful end. Though the story had a fair bit of tragedy, it was full of hope and had a generous sprinkling of humour throughout. The setting interested me immensely! I so enjoyed learnin
Oct 04, 2014 Kk rated it it was amazing
when I set my eyes on this book I immediately fell I'm love with the cover...when I read the back page review..I classified it as a horrible cheesy romance...and it found its way to the bottom lay there while I read other seemingly better works like my family and other animals or to kill a mockingbird...when I finally faced it I realized the great expertise of the author...the seriousness behind the childish cover and the legacy behind the cheesy review.especially considering this is he ...more
Aug 14, 2010 Donna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own, 5-stars, 2014
This was a lovely story of not-so-lovely circumstances. Pasulka does a fine job moving between two different times, a trick which is not often carried off well, in my opinion. Both story lines are set in Poland: one around the time of World War II, and the other in modern times. The earlier story line starts much like a folk tale, with characters larger than life, but as the novel develops these characters become more real and ultimately blend into the contemporary story in a seamless fashion. T ...more
Mary McCoy
Oct 05, 2009 Mary McCoy rated it liked it
The book is really two stories that eventually come together. The first is set in Krakow in the 1990s, newly democratic and out from under Soviet rule. Beata is a young woman who moves to the city to live with her aunt and erstwhile cousin, and is trying to figure out how to avoid living her life as just a Polish barmaid.

The second story is set in Poland during World War II, and it's one of the sweetest, saddest, most beautiful love stories I've ever read.

Pasulka stumbles a few times with plot d
Jessa Allen
Aug 06, 2012 Jessa Allen rated it it was amazing
This has been one of the best book I've read in a long time. Like another recent reviewer, I purchased this at a Borders going-out-of-business sale. I picked it up because of the eye-catching cover and I generally enjoy any story that takes place in WWII Eastern Europe. I wasn't disappointed! The book goes between a love story in 1940s Poland and the coming of age story of said love story's granddaughter in 1990s Poland. I fully expected a fluffy happy ending, but was surprised with the very rea ...more
Nov 27, 2009 Hannah rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, poignant, sad, yet hopeful - this book is going on my yearly reread shelf. The writing is warm and personable, the characters entirely believable. Early on, I predicted where the story was going only to be proved wrong many times. But really the plot is only another character in a story of humanity. Never have I felt more attached to my little amber heart I wear everyday bought from a street vender in Krakow.

Thank you for the recommendation, Lydia. I couldn't put it down, and it's no
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Around the World ...: * Poland-A Long, Long Time Ago... 3 25 Aug 23, 2013 05:05PM  
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Brigid Pasulka is the author of A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, which won the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Pasulka currently lives in Chicago with her husband and runs the writing center at a public high school. Visit her website at
More about Brigid Pasulka...

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“The stupid things you do in life are the most beautiful.” 10 likes
“[The Pigeon had learned something about [women] from his eight sisters, and if over the years he had absorbed only this one thing, it would stand as vindication that a boy does not suffer needlessly from growing up in a house with eight sisters. That thing was that a woman's heart is not bought by the currency of a man's emotion for her. A woman's heart is won over by her own feelings for herself when he just happens to be around ...” 8 likes
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