This month, I’m featuring Brigid Pasulka, the author of A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True. This book was my absolute favorite book of 2009 and, as a result, my most recommended and gifted book. While you are here, be sure to enter my giveaway of this amazing story! The giveaway will be ending on January 31, so be sure to get your comments in!
Me: Did you base “Long, Long Time Ago” on a real life love story and have you had one of your own that you could share with us?
Brigid: Unfortunately, my grandparents died when I was young, and I don’t know the details of their romance, except that they met in Chicago and not a place like Half-Village. As for me, I’m happy to report that I’m getting married to a wonderful man in a few months, but like most people these days, I dated for what seemed like eons before I found the right person. And while some of my dating experiences were very positive, some were not. At times, I remember being very discouraged, as if the whole modern dating scene was a debris field where you could just barely pick out the remnants of some long-past set of values, the faint outline of human decency somewhere off in the distance. I felt somewhat isolated, as I think is true for many people through those dating years, only instead of hitting the bottle or kvetching to my girlfriends (or maybe in addition to), I happened to be working on this novel. So I guess my frustrations bloomed into the idealized romance between the Pigeon and Anielica, and that gave me a kind of escape from the e-mailing and the texting, the wait-three-days-before-you-call rules, the cheapening morals and the lowered expectations I saw around me. Looking back, I honestly think writing that half of the book helped me to preserve my hope and idealism not only in relationships, but in the world at large.
And then at 35, I finally found my Pigeon! We met just after the editing for the book was completed, but a year before it came out. And though he has not yet built a new tin roof for my condo building, he has a lot of the same qualities I see in the Pigeon. I do have to out him for one thing that I hope won’t embarrass him, but for the first six months or so, he did this really sweet thing where every few dates, he would e-mail me an updated list of the dates we’d been on, complete with a hilarious running commentary. One day it actually dawned on me that maybe these were the modern equivalent of Anielica and Pigeon’s notes. I guess we’ll have to wait until one of us is forced into political exile to truly test the relationship.
Me: What inspired you to choose a WWII setting for your first novel?
Brigid: I think it chose me. I actually wrote the modern story first. I spent a number of years on it and then put it away. Then, I think it was in June of 2005 when I was in Krakow for a visit, and I went to my favorite café there, hoping to make some headway on a new novel I had started, this one set in Chicago. The café happens to be called Gołębia 3, or Pigeon 3, after its address, and it has murals of pigeons and pigeon mobiles hanging down the center aisle. So as I sat there, for the first time since I’d started writing seriously, I was absolutely blocked. Something wouldn’t let me move on. Something told me that in order to know Baba Yaga, I needed to go back and find out her grandparents’ story. I remember banging out the first two chapters in an afternoon, and probably about six or seven chapters by the time my vacation in Krakow was over. Of course, her grandparents were old enough to be in the war generation, and when it came to researching that thread of the novel, I realized that I already knew quite a bit about the Holocaust from a class in college and my own personal reading, but I knew very little about the experience of non-Jewish Poles in the war, and especially the resistance movement. I found the details about the vast secret networks and the heroic actions of ordinary people fascinating.
Me: Are there any particular books or authors that have influenced you?
Brigid: When I was living in Russia more than ten years ago, a British friend gave me Louis de Bernieres’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I read it in a week, loved it, but eventually forgot about it. Or so I thought, until my British publisher made the comparison in some marketing materials. Now, of course, I see the obvious influence of that book on mine. I have also always admired Flannery O’Connor for her knowledge of people and her dark sense of humor, and I love the way Salman Rushdie is able to zoom from the nose of an Indian villager to the entire spinning globe in one glorious breath. But there are so many good books out there, I’m constantly learning from and admiring other authors.
I want to thank Brigid for her time and encourage you all to read her book, A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True. It’s a book that sits on my shelf and will be read again and again. You can visit Brigid at her website located at: http://www.brigidpasulka.com/.