Pears on a Willow Tree
Pears on a Willow Tree is a multigenerational roadmap of love and hate, distance and closeness, and the lure of roots that both bind and sustain us all.
The Marchewka women are inseparable. They relish the joys of family gatherings; from preparing traditional holiday meals to organizing a wedding in which each of them is given a specific task -- whether it's sewing the bridal gown or preserving pickles as a gift to the newlyweds. Bound together by recipes, reminiscences and tangled relationships, these women are the foundation of a dignified, compassionate family--one that has learned to survive the hardships of emigration and assimilation in twentieth-century America.
But as the century evolves, so does each succeeding generation. As the older women keep a tight hold on the family traditions passed from mother to daughter, the younger women are dealing with more modern problems, wounds not easily healed by the advice of a local priest or a kind word from mother.
Amy is separated by four generations from her great-grandmother Rose, who emigrated from Poland. Rose's daughter Helen adjusted to the family's new home in a way her mother never could, while at the same time accepting the importance of Old Country ways. But Helen's daughter Ginger finds herself suffocating within the close-knit family, the first Marchewka woman to leave Detroit for the adventure of life beyond the reach of her mother and grandmother.
It's in the American West that Giner raises her daughter Amy, uprooted from the safety of kitchens perfuned by the aroma of freshly baked poppy seed cake and pierogi made by hand by generations of women. But Amy is about to realize that there may be room in her heart for both the Old World and the New.
A family saga comprising 16 self-contained chapters, each a monologue (or dialogue) featuring one of four women in a prolific Polish-American clan, this compelling debut is an example of the novel-in-stories at its best. In prose as plain and four-square as her protagonists, Pietrzyk traces the family's evolution from 1919 through the late 1980s, from its transplantation to the U.S.--specifically, Detroit--through three generations, showing how the older women (who privately refer to themselves as Marchewskas, after matriarch Rose's maiden name) preserve ethnic traditions and family customs and why their daughters shake them off. Of the 10 women of the Marchewska family, the book focuses upon Rose, her daughter Helen, granddaughter Ginger (the rebel who abandons Detroit and settles in Phoenix) and great-granddaughter Amy. The voices of these four women are quite different--Rose's primal and earthy; Helen's pathetic; Ginger's cool, irreverent, iconoclastic and questioning; Amy's tempered and mature beyond her years. Reading this novel is like leafing through a family photo album (one of Pietrzyk's favored motifs) except that, once you pick up this book, it's hard to put it down.