3 1/2 Stars - Recommended strongly to readers familiar with genre
I was asked by the publisher if I would be interested in reviewing this novel. While I tend to steer away from war novels / novels that revolve around war time, something about this one caught my attention. And so, I agreed.
A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True is a two part story, in which both parts are told side by side, chapter by chapter. The novel begins by introducing us to Pigeon - a young man who has fallen in love with Aneilica, the most beautiful girl in town. It follows their blossoming courtship, and eventual immigration, during the reigns of Hitler and Stalin. The alternating chapters follow his granddaughter "Baba Yaga" 50 years later, in present day Krakow, and her struggles with self confidence and dating, the recent death of her mother, and abandonment of her father.
From the very start, I preferred the story of Pigeon and his fierce determination and loyalty to his family and Aneilica. He had such a strong aura, I could not help but want to read more about him and his devotion to a woman he knew so little about.
Baba Yaga's story had less impact on me, and seemed to counterbalance the fire and urgency of Pigeon's. As her chapters approached, I found myself wishing I could skip over them and just read more about her grandfather.
Then, as the war approached and the focus of Pigeon's story changed to survival, I began to favor Baba Yaga's story, as it was finally beginning to take shape and come into it's own. She now had a life of her own - shy and bashful but full of love for an awkward boy who played clarinet at the bar she waitressed at.
Needless to say, I noticed a stop-and-go sort of pace with the chapters throughout the entire novel. As one story line built momentum, the other would crawl to a near halt. As the action diminished in one, the tempo picked up in the other. While I understand the need to balance the chapters out, it frustrated me, and I found myself tossing and turning between them.
First I'm dying to get back to Pigeon. Then I'm thumbing through his chapters counting the words until I can get back to Baba and her story.
I struggled with how to rate this novel. While I enjoyed the character growth, and overall plot, I didn't handle the alternating chapters, up and down pacing, and war theme very well. I settled on 3 1/2 stars - strongly recommending this novel to people who enjoy the theme and genre.
I suppose it just goes to show that I like what I like, no matter how well the author tells a story, or how well they manipulate the written word. Though I will continue to read and review novels like this one in the hopes that somewhere, someday, I will locate one that blows all the others away. So my search still continues.....