When actress and first-time author Dagmara Dominczyk recently launched her book “The Lullaby of Polish Girls,” it seemed only natural that the launch party should be held in Greenpoint.
And since she has a lifetime’s worth of friends, neighbors and well-wishers, one single event didn’t seem like it was enough.
The Polish-born actress recently gave local bibliophiles two chances to get acquainted with her debut novel, with a standing-room-only reading at Word, 126 Franklin Street; and by popular demand, a second reading at the Greenpoint branch of Brooklyn Public Library.
“It doesn’t get more full-circle than that,” said Dominczyk, perhaps best known for starring in 2002’s “The Count of Monte Cristo” and with more recent credits in TV’s 24, The Good Wife and Person of Interest.
“I used to live up the block from it, on Leonard,” she tweeted before the library reading. “My husband proposed to me on the stoop on that street. Good times.”
Dominczyk says that writing was always her first love, even before being bitten by the acting bug as a student at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. She says she started keeping a journal at age 10, and has been a prolific blogger and frequent tweeter.
“Those who know me, know I like to write,” she said. “Those who know me a little bit, know that I’m an actress. Those who don’t know me know that I’m married to Patrick Wilson.”
She was referring to the ever-prolific actor whose IMDB credits read like the phone directory of a small town. The couple, both alumni of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, married in 2005 and have two sons, Kalin and Kassian. The family lived in Greenpoint for years before moving to Montclair, New Jersey two years ago.
It was around this time that Dominczyk immersed herself in writing “Lullaby” as a creative outlet while balancing the demands of full-time motherhood.
“Once there’s a creative thing in you and you let it go, it nips at you a little bit,” Dominczyk said.
“The Lullaby of Polish Girls” is set partly in Greenpoint, the adopted home of its central character Anna, and traces the complex relationships she has with two friends from the hardscrabble town of Kielce, Poland.
The narrative is told through flashbacks and flash-forwards, spanning the 1980s to the early 2000s, and told from the perspectives of the three main characters as they deal with coming of age and persevering through profound loss.
“A fourth character is Poland itself”, said Dominczyk, and “Lullaby” delves into secondary themes of Solidarity and the new immigrant experience.
“It’s very rooted in my past, but then it becomes total fiction,” said Dominczyk, who like the main character, immigrated to Brooklyn at age 7 due to her father’s role in the Solidarity movement.
“Anyone who was brought up with two kinds of lives, two cultures split down the middle for whatever reason, they can take stuff from this book, even if they’re not Polish,” the author said.
A crucial moment in the early evolution of the book, she says, was over dinner with family friend Adriana Trigiani, author of “The Shoemaker’s Wife”. Trigiani was immediately impressed with an early draft of “Lullaby”, and became Dominczyk’s mentor throughout the project.
Trigiani gave Dominczyk a deadline, which gave the project a sense of reality in her mind. Trigiani told the author, “I want your life to be less about bone structure and more about sentence structure.”
“Dag always knew that what she really was, was a story-teller,” Trigiani said at the Word launch party. “She really was pulling this thread of her heritage across the ocean to America. She brought her people, her heritage, the emotions of the Polish people with her.”
“What Dag wrote is so emotional—so in-your-face with these girls—that you connect, you know them, you believe in them,” Trigiani said. “She grabs you by the throat on the very first page of the book.”
Dominczyk’s launch party at Word was also a proud moment for the store’s owner Christine Onorati, a close personal friend.
“I get to introduce and gush over a lot of different authors (at readings) but tonight I get to do it for my best friend, so it’s a very big night for me,” Onorati said.
Onorati explained that it was during Dominczyk’s frequent visits to the independent book store that they became close.
“Dag was my neighbor in Greenpoint for many years and we were friendly, but it was really here that we started talking and talking books and getting to know each other,” Onorati remembered.
“You know, behind all that make-up and high heels, Dag is a total book nerd,” Onorati said with a laugh.
In the audience at the Word reading was Izabela Barry, a librarian at the Greenpoint branch of Brooklyn Public Library. Barry quickly read “Lullaby” and immediately booked Dominczyk’s June 27th appearance there.
“I read it (“Lullaby”) in two nights and I was crying over that,” Barry said while introducing Dominczyk at the library. “It’s vibrant. It’s tough. It’s harsh, I would say. There’s joy and happiness mixed together. At the end, there’s something that comes to the surface: friendship…hope…love.”
Barry told the author: “I thank you very much for this book because we probably came to this country at the same time, and everything that you wrote was what I was thinking about, what I was feeling. Basically, I would say that you wrote the book which I wanted to write.”
Library users seemed to have embraced the book. Barry noted that the 13 copies of “The Lullaby of the Polish Girls” in circulation system-wide were all out and that there was a waiting list as of this writing.
Plans are in the works to translate “Lullaby” into Polish and sell it in Poland.
“This book doesn’t aspire to capture the entire Polish experience. That’s impossible,” the writer says. “But it’s like a window at a very specific time in the lives of these girls.”
“I went to Carnegie Mellon for drama and Andrew Carnegie had this motto that is inscribed in all the buildings: ‘My heart is in the work’,” Dominczyk said. “I’m telling you: my heart is in the work.”
Dominczyk is already in the middle of writing a second book, which she says has nothing to do with Poland. She said someday she’d like to write a prequel to “Lullaby”, a love story focusing on the Anna character’s parents.
Earlier in the year she worked with her husband on a movie called “Jack Strong”, which was filmed in Poland. “Funnily enough, Patrick plays a CIA agent who speaks Polish and my character Sue is an American who doesn’t,” she says of the film, which is slated for a 2014 release.
In the meantime, Dominczyk is busy with motherhood, writing the follow-up, and the occasional red carpet with her husband—all while basking in the glow of the early success of her first book.
“This is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened career-wise, creatively,” she said.
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