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Book Review Lala by Jacek Dehnel

Stylistically, Jacek Dehnel’s family saga is a hybrid. It reads like a memoir, includes real people and their portraits, covers historical events and features a family tree and endnotes. And yet Lala is described as a novel. It is based on fact, crafted like fiction. The narrative is intricate, rambling and, like memory itself, sometimes frustratingly elusive. Dehnel’s family tales begin in Kiev in the 1860s and encompass over a hundred and fifty years. Accounts of their personal fortunes, of loves, won and lost, are set against some of the defining moments of the twentieth century that helped to shape Poland today.

On the first page, Dehnel tells us he is beginning at his story’s end, with his grandmother, the titular Lala, sitting out her final days, like the doll she is named after, ‘muffled in rugs and baggy knitted waistcoats, so very thin, small and light, it’s hard to connect her with our memory.’ Lala is made up of reminiscences, both Dehnel’s and his granny’s: ‘the story b…