Audiobook Review: A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

25 06 2012

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Audible Modern Vanguard

Length: 14 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Literary Historical Fiction

Quick Thoughts:  A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is an audiobook that would have never been on my radar if it wasn’t for the audiobook community. It tells stories I don’t often read in a manner that I wasn’t prepared for. Pasulka manages to take settings I an unfamiliar with and characters who are nothing like me, and make me feel for them. This bittersweet, lovingly crafted glimpse into a fading history will stick with me for a while.

Grade: A-

Today is the first day of Audiobook Week and my first review is for the title A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka. Up until about two weeks ago, I had never heard of this book. In fact, the first time I heard of it was when audiobook engineer Ted Scott mentioned it in our interview as a book he often recommends. When I first read his answer, I thought he was discussing two books, one called A Long, Long Time Ago and another title called Essentially True. After playing with the Google monster I discovered that this was actually one book. I also discovered that narrator Cassandra Campbell lists it as one of her favorite performances. Cassandra Campbell is a narrator who I have listened to trice before and both of those productions were of Zombie Audiobooks. While I love a good Zombie Novel they are not often the best example of a narrators work. I’ve enjoyed my experiences with Campbell as a narrator, but I have yet to be blown away by her performances. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is a type of novel I almost never listen to. It is Literary Historical Fiction that takes place in Poland. It’s tells the story of a family living in a small village during World War 2 and their descendants living in Krakow after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The closest audiobook I have experienced that took place during this time and setting was Harry Turtledoves World War series, yet I highly doubt that Pasulka’s tale would include alien lizards.  I felt if a narrator was going to blow me away, this was precisely the type of story that would give her the vehicle to shine.

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True was nothing like I expected. When I first started reading it, I thought the small town setting and the significance of "The War After The War to End All Wars" would make that part of the book my favorite. Pasulka tells her tale in alternating passages, and I expected the scenes involving Beata, the bar girl in post Soviet dominated Krakow to only serve as color for the more interesting tale of the struggles of a small town during the Nazi invasion of Poland. I had this entirely backwards. Pasulka’s tale of Half Village and their struggles during the war is told in a surface level, almost fairy tale like way. While you are instantly engaged with the characters, they have an almost underdeveloped feel. They often felt more like grand characters of legend, then actual people dealing with actual troubles.  While I was expecting a lot out of this story, the tale she told wasn’t what I expected. Pasulka tells of those left behind, the family that must deal with the consequences of their sons, husbands and fathers as they fight as partisans against the invading story. It was compelling and at times touching, but it lacked a certain depth. Yet the simplicity of this side of the story only serves as counterweight to the lavish, heart wrenching tale of the awkward, village girl Beata, struggling to find her place in big city Krakow. Stripped of everyone she loved Beata moves into a boarding house with her hard Aunt and irresponsible cousin. She works each day in a jazz club, where she pines for a meek clarinet player who plays occasionally in the owner’s band. Pasulka created a character who is quite different from me yet was instantly relatable. Her attempts to find her place in the world and struggles with esteem and purpose have a universal quality that manages to avoid coming off pat. The true beauty in the tales is the way it balances the two stories, having each play off each other in unexpected ways. Small reveals in one tale, lead to even bigger insights into the next. Each tale individually would be missing something, but tied together Pasulka paints a truly beautiful portrait of family and the search for ones place in the world. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is an audiobook that would have never been on my radar if it wasn’t for the audiobook community. It tells stories I don’t often read in a manner that I wasn’t prepared for. Pasulka manages to take settings I an unfamiliar with and characters who are nothing like me, and make me feel for them. This bittersweet, lovingly crafted glimpse into a fading history will stick with me for a while.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I choose this audiobook was that I was hoping to be blown away by Cassandra Campbell’s performance. Well, I was. What amazed me about her reading wasn’t just her ability to pull of authentic Polish characters, but the way she managed to make each character distinctive. Often times, when narrators have multiple characters with similar ethnic background, these characters will sort of run into each other. Yet, Campbell puts loving detail into each character bringing them alive in wonderful ways. Under the narrators fine touch, this world comes alive. Campbell uses changing rhythms and tones to display the contrast between the big city life in Krakow and the environs of Half Village that helps increase the affect of Pasulka’s alternating timelines. This is truly one of the beautiful things about audiobooks, when you do take a chance and step outside your comfort zones, the right guide can make that trip even more rewarding.

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3 responses

25 06 2012
Cassandra Johnson Campbell

You are on my list of heroes for this listen and your insightful review. Thank you! I love this book and it didn’t get the attention it deserved either in print or audio. Slipped through the cracks as so many great books do. I really, really appreciate you shedding some light on it!!

25 06 2012
Nise' (Under the Boardwalk)

I’ve listened to Cassandra Campbell narrate a book and enjoyed it. After reading this review I feel compelled to listen to it. Thanks.

25 06 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I’ve had the print version on my shelves forever, maybe I need to try to get to the audio.

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