Perhaps fledgling author Dagmara Dominczyk intended irony when christening her debut novel The Lullaby of Polish Girls. Readers expecting a tender coming-of-age story should be warned that Dominczyk’s brutally raw narrative is less a soothing lullaby than a gut-wrenching ballad of heartbreak and healing amongst three childhood friends in a small town in Poland in the early 1980s.
Dominczyk, an actress who was born in Poland, immigrated to New York City at the age of seven. Her father was imprisoned and later deported because of his work as a founding member of the workers’ union Solidarity, and she has imbued The Lullaby of Polish Girls with the passion and authority of a writer whose fiction resonates with a realism likely forged by personal experience. To be sure, when Dominczyk’s heroine Anna immigrates to Brooklyn with her parents, she is torn asunder from all the comforts of her familiar, albeit hardscrabble, homeland. Thus, when an adolescent Anna is finally allowed to spend the summer with her grandmother in Kielce, Poland, her newly forged friendships with Justyna and Kamila quickly become the foundation of her fragile young life.
While the girls’ posse is renewed and cherished upon Anna’s return to Poland each summer, a decade later, the close-knit trio has scattered—Anna unraveling emotionally, despite her success as an actress in New York, Kamila fleeing to join her parents in Michigan after a devastating divorce, and the wild child Justyna, struggling to accept her domestic roles as wife and mother in Poland. Despite their geographic estrangement, when tragedy strikes—the murder of Justyna’s husband—the three friends are reunited again in a melancholy and impromptu reunion in Poland that proves as unsettling as it is cathartic.
If Dominczyk’s graphic language and reliance on one particular profanity punctuates far too many of her novel’s sentences, she redeems herself when describing her beloved homeland. Above all, Dominczyk aptly captures the immigrant’s sense of alienation and homesickness, as she does the resentment and abandonment experienced by those who are left behind in a country decimated by decades of poverty and political unrest.