Ask Naomi: Tell Us More About The UPROOTED Polish Fairy Tale?

US Edition
US Edition
Alvin Moser asks: In the acknowledgements to Uprooted, you mentioned that the name of your protagonist was taken from a Polish tale about Agnieszka and the Yellow Cow. You implied it was well known in Poland. My boss’ name is Agnieszka and she grew up in Poland and has not heard of this tale. Could you cite a source for the tale? My search of the Internet has yielded nothing.

Naomi Novik answers: You know, I don’t actually know how well-known the story is in Poland, because my experience is indirect. It’s called “Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba.” My mother had a few books of Polish fairy tales that she read to me, and that was one of my two favorite stories. The author is Natalia Gałczynska. My mother read it to me from her collection O wróżkach i czarodziejach, which was in turn inspired by older French fairy tales.

It was famous enough that it was made into a TV movie over there, I believe — my mother just recently tracked down a copy of it for me that we’re going to be watching together soon! Agnieszka is a little girl who goes into an enchanted forest to rescue her lost cow and ends up breaking the curse that divides her village from the one on the other side. I always loved as a child hearing a story with a little girl as the hero. The story is about not fearing and hating foreigners, a story that I have to think was inspired by the war and upheaval of the time: the magic phrase is “the people on the other side of the forest are just like us.”

Here’s a picture of the book on the official website for her (and her husband, a famous poet himself): — the little girl in the blue dress is the little girl Agnieszka from the story, that’s the edition I have.

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