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Reading: The Lullaby of Polish Girls

The Lullaby of Polish Girls
The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lullaby of Polish Girls offers three different views of growing up Polish. Anna’s family fled Poland when she was young and started a new life in America, so she only experiences her hometown of Kielce in brief summer visits during the 1990s, where she forms lasting friendships with Kamila and Justyna, but spends most of her time in the U.S. pursuing her acting dream. Kamila is insecure, envious of the other two for their confidence or their beauty, but remains ever-optimistic that she’ll eventually get all the things she deserves (particularly the affections of her crush, Emil). Justyna is the cynic of the trio, ever ready to be brutally honest about how she perceives things or even to sabotage things for her friends if it ultimately serves her own interests.

The book presents their teen lives in flashbacks, the other half looking at their lives in the present of 2002. Anna’s career is reaching crisis point just as her relationship with the American Ben is falling apart, Kamila is still reeling from the revelation that Emil (who she has since married) is actually gay, and Justyna has just suffered a fresh tragedy in a life she already barely had control of.

To an extent then it’s almost six short stories that all form the parts of one larger one, three main characters each with their own present-day and flashback chapters, no character or story getting more attention than the others. Dagmara Dominczyk sprinkles Polish phrases liberally through the story, either simply using them when their meaning is obvious without a translation, or immediately translating it quite naturally within the text itself.

‘I can’t wait for next summer. You’ll be my girlfriend.’ Anna gasps quietly into his neck. She will not forget his words: Będziesz moją dziewczyną.

‘And you’re rubbing yourself while you think about her? What, are you a lezbijka, you little perv?’

Ultimately it’s a story about the comfort of friendship, how three women reach the lowest points of their lives but are able to find strength in people they’ve not spoken to in years, because that sort of friendship transcends time. They can argue and even fall out, but when things get really bad they’ll always be there for one another. It adds an air of optimism to what is otherwise three sad stories of people suddenly finding their lives slipping out of their control in ways they never could have foreseen, and which they would have been unable to cope with if they had to try and go through it alone.

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