I’m not one of those people who read “celebrity” books. Whether it’s an autobiography or a fictional story that a celebrity created, I’ll admit to being a literary snob and passing over a movie star’s novel to read a book written by someone with more literary experience and authority. However, I made an exception for Dagmara Dominczyk’s The Lullaby of Polish Girls. I heard that Dominczyk, who debuted in 2002’s The Count of Monte Cristo, created a novel that was loosely based on her life growing up between America and Poland. It garnered fairly positive reviews, and since the story seemed like an atypical creation for your average actor, I decided to give it a try.
The Lullaby of Polish Girls delves into the lives of three Polish friends: Anna, an aspiring actress who spends her childhood living in both Brooklyn and Poland; Kamila, who recently found out that her husband was gay; and Justyna, a spiteful mother whose husband’s death kick-starts the story’s events. It describes various stages of the girls’ lives both in present-tense and through flashbacks. However, the novel focuses on the summers when Anna returns from Brooklyn to her hometown of Kielce.
The most interesting aspect of the book is how the reader sees the town of Kielce change as the girls grow older. For Anna, the descriptions of her childhood summers describe a laid-back community where she is surrounded by close family, good friends, and few rules. Kielce is a happy place, one where Anna is able to escape the slums of Brooklyn and be a carefree child. The juxtaposition occurs during the descriptions of Justyna’s life as a teen mother. We see Kielce as it truly is: a dead end, a weed that chokes any hope of wealth or success. Poor housing, few job opportunities, and nothing but free time make the citizens turn to destructive habits as a form of escapism. Dominczyk doesn’t explicitly state that Kielce’s problems were caused by the aftereffects of the Cold War. However, it’s relatively easy to make the connection. Dominczyk explains that Anna’s family were political refugees who came to America in the late 1980’s because of her father’s activism, which gives faint illumination to the novel’s political climate.
Many readers praise Dominczyk for her accurate portrayal of Poland and Polish immigrants living in America. I feel like the book gave me a decent sense of being a Polish girl both in the US and overseas. The novel dabbles with Polish words and phrases, and Dominczyk’s portrayal of the hopelessness that occurs in many small, impoverished towns is plainly evident.
Where the novel falls flat, though, is its execution of the story. The plot itself is fairly unremarkable; it’s your average coming-of-age tale. But by focusing on three main characters in such a short book, Dominczyk doesn’t give herself time to delve into the characters’ psyche and motivations. The girls feel stereotypical. Dominczyk tries to create fear and panic in the last chapter, but the build-up of suspense was nonexistent. The ending is abrupt and unfulfilling.
Plot and developmental holes aside, I feel like Dominczyk tried to pull a girl-power motif by showing these women that they can make it through anything as long as they have friends. But between the sheer amount of sex and gossip and boy talk, as well as a rape that served no purpose other than to provide shock value, The Lullaby of Polish Girls feels like a Young Adult novel trying to play grown-up.