Best New Novelist

Critics' Picks

Brigid Pasulka

brigidpasulka.com

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Whitney Young High School teacher Brigid Pasulka spent a year after college in 1994 in Krakow and was charmed enough by the place and the culture to eventually write a very charming book set there. Her debut novel, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, published last year by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, interweaves two tales. In one, a young couple—the brave Pigeon and his stunningly beautiful love, Anielica—struggle to keep their life and family together during the World War II occupation by Nazi Germany and then the Soviets. They uproot from their small village in search of a better life in the “fairy-tale city” of Krakow, but Krakow turns out not to be the city of their dreams. In the other tale, their not-so-beautiful granddaughter Beata, nicknamed “Baba Yaga” after a folktale witch, struggles to find her own way in a much-different Krakow 50 years later, where she works as a bar girl and neither communism nor the new capitalism has offered the young people much hope. Pasulka’s novel, which won the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished first book of fiction, has it all: history, drama, romance, compelling characters, and lots of humor, sometimes of the morbid variety (“What’s the difference between matrimony and the Nazis? In the end, they say the Nazis put you out of your misery”).