“Dzikowski brings a steady authorial hand to this poignant and approachable family tale.”
— Booklife by Publishers Weekly
“Wonderful character studies … a complex and engrossing family tale.”
— Kirkus Reviews
In Barbara J. Dzikowski’s new multigenerational tale, The Last Moon Before Home, frayed family ties become strained even further when an aging patriarch faces a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, until his twenty-something granddaughter whom no one knew existed enters the scene, quietly assumes the caregiving role and helps lead the family dynamic toward more honest and open connections.
With a letter from her dead mother that provides the name of her father — Leon Ziemny — and nothing more, twenty-something Willow Trudeau reads about an artist Ricky Ziemny with a studio in Langston, Indiana. Hoping Ricky is related to Leon, Willow ditches nursing school and hops on a bus to Langston. In fact, Ricky and Leon are brothers and have just learned that their father Walter has Alzheimer’s.
FADING NEIGHBORHOOD AND FADING MIND
Owner of the town’s failing Mazurka Inn, Walt is charmed by the young Willow the minute she sets foot in the tavern door, even though she initially covers up the fact that Leon’s ex-wife is her mother. Walt hires Willow to bartend for him and, with his growing realization that his brain is “dissolving like a fizzing Alka-Seltzer tablet,” she becomes her grandfather’s preferred caretaker.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family struggles in their efforts to help. Walt’s wife Mary often erupts in anger that seems more deep-seated than dealing with her husband’s dementia. Ricky helped fund his father’s purchase of the inn but, as a recovering alcoholic, has his limits. Leon refuses to accept Walter’s diagnosis, ignores his wife Stella’s complaints about their stagnant marriage and carries unresolved pain from his long-ago marriage to Willow’s mother.
Multiple points of view, including every family member, enrich the reading, but the most compelling voice may be Walt’s. Even as he struggles with lucidity, his humor and intelligence prevail. The more his disease progresses, the more he pines for home. When he can’t seem to find it, he derives comfort from the memory of the day he left Poland as a young boy, with his mother standing on a dock, a cotton scarf around her head as she waved goodbye to her only son.
But home for most of his adult life has been Langston, a homely little steel-mill town where Walt and Ricky’s Mazurka Inn has served four generations of Polish Americans. Despite having been named after a lively Polish dance performed in triple time, the inn is now a shadow of its former self, as is the town. How each character faces his or her own truth — to provide the sense of home and family that Walter seeks — makes for an engrossing read.
THE POWER OF HOME AND FAMILY
The Last Moon Before Home is second in a trilogy by Dzikowski. The first book, The Moonstoners, focuses on Willow’s mother Noel Trudeau and the connections between the Trudeau and Ziemny families during the turbulent sixties. This second book begins with Willow’s birth in 1973, then jumps to 1997 and covers the next five years of the family saga.
In a season where we ourselves feel suspended in time, this story speaks directly to the power of home and family, and to the poignancy of life as we face mortality. In Dzikowski’s beautiful words that open the novel, “The suspension in time has a way of revealing the truth; the kind of truth that’s bigger than one person, one lifetime … to still the world long enough to see the truth in all its clarity before the mirror returns to dim. Things like a river, a cemetery, the moon and the stars, like fire in the night. Or that stark edifying moment when your body first reveals its mortality.”
The proud and vibrant characters that embody this story inspire us to be honest but kind, to ourselves and each other. Again in the author’s words, her characters allow us a close look into “the unseen bonds that held us together in spite of ourselves.” Reading about those unseen bonds encourages us to savor the intimacy and humor of our own moments with loved ones as we cherish our human connection.