Such a delight, this book! Delve into a modern woman’s folk tale and enjoy. Personally, I am always a fan of time travel. The time travel here is particularly note-worthy because it involves the ancestry of the protagonist.
When Regina, the mother of her great-grandmother, accidently travels from 19th-century Poland to 21st-century America and lands in Kat’s Pennsylvania kitchen, they both become involved in a crazy multi-century mystery. Linda C. Wisniewski uses mythology, fantasy, and real-life problems that cross cultures and time to weave this story about strong women who come together to solve a universal problem.
Kat’s modern-day angst, although not to be dismissed, is put into perspective as she begins to comprehend the hardships of daily life of the women who came before her. At the same time, we see so many similarities in the female experience over time; how little has changed, yet how much has changed.
In middle age, Kat has made some poor choices that force her to face the life-long wound caused by her mother’s abandonment when she was a child. Over the course of her life, Kat has both struggled desperately to hold on to friendships and other relationships while also maintaining some emotional distance from others. And though she feels little connection with people in her immediate life, in her own time and place, she feels connected to Regina. Thus, Kat finally gains confidence to find her own path and heal and mend her relationship with her daughter—and even, perhaps, her estranged husband.
Regina’s concerns are much more straightforward. She has a sick child and an abusive husband, and she struggles from day to day just to feed her large family. Wisniewski depicts the harsh reality of domestic abuse in a way that does not “hit the reader over the head” but rather as a fact of life and something that needs to change. She gives her characters and all women the tools to make such a change.
Regina and Kat come to understand one another and become close friends as they assist one another toward solutions. Along the way, the mysterious Aniela guides the two, serving as translator and miracle-maker. Over time Aniela’s true identity and purpose are revealed. Indeed, as it turns out, Aniela needs Regina and Kat as much as they need her.
Yes, there are notes of magic realism, religion, and mythology; but the bones of this book are about empowering women. Regina learns that certain events in her life are not her fault. Kat learns her purpose. And Aniela, well, she learns that with a little help, mere mortals can solve their own problems. Delicately, Wisniewski uses folklore and whimsy to portray a dark reality of humanity. Not an easy feat.