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  • Tammy Pasterick

The past year has been a challenging one for the entire world. The pandemic turned our lives upside down and forced us into a quarantine that seemed to have no end in sight. With schools shut down and businesses operating remotely, we had no choice but to reinvent our work and home life. In my corner of the world, the quiet house where I had spent the last several years writing with my dog at my feet suddenly became a flurry of activity. While my husband conducted business meetings on Zoom just steps away from my favorite writing spot, my tween and teen constantly barged into the room with a new need. They were hungry and wanted lunch, they were confused and needed help with their homework, they were bored and wished they could hang out with their friends, or they were worried about the pandemic and just needed to talk. It was a difficult time on so many levels, and my anxiety was through the roof. I was in desperate need of an escape.

Enter the audiobook. I had heard about Audible and Kobo before the pandemic, but had not really given these services much thought. I was perfectly content reading physical books while nestled under my covers late at night. But when Covid turned my once peaceful home into my husband's noisy conference room and my kids' chaotic school, I needed refuge. Folding laundry within earshot of meetings about lumber shortages and Spanish and algebra lessons—all happening at the same time—was just too much stimulation for my introverted brain. I set up an Audible account and bought my first book. Within minutes, the chaos in my house fell away, and I was lost in another time and place.

Over the past year, I have listened to at least a dozen audiobooks. Driving my kids to school and doing household chores has never been so much fun! I actually look forward to folding laundry now and don't mind cleaning the beastly Viking range that I just had to have. I simply play my audiobook and escape the mundane task at hand. The stories are always captivating, but even more compelling are the soothing voices of the characters that pull me into their world and make me feel as though I'm part of their story. The most recent book I listened to was The Dutch House, which was narrated by Tom Hanks. His voice was so spellbinding and intimate that I often thought an old friend was confiding in me as I drove around Maryland and Delaware these past few weeks. Circe was narrated by Perdita Weeks, a British actress with a smooth, sultry voice that cast a spell over me. She brought Circe to life so completely that I couldn't stop thinking about Greek mythology for weeks.

Audiobooks will never completely replace the traditional books that I love so much. There is something very special about the feel of a book in your hands and the experience of reading a story on a porch or at the beach surrounded by the soothing sounds of nature. That magic is irreplaceable. But when life becomes overwhelming or a task becomes insanely boring, an audiobook is the perfect way to escape. Below are three of my favorites from the past year.

Ann Patchett, the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Commonwealth, delivers her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love, and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves, and of who we really are.

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

On a humid afternoon in 1933, American Jessie Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and onto the shores of Vietnam. Accompanying her French husband Victor, an heir to the Michelin rubber fortune, she’s certain that their new life is full of promise, for while the rest of the world is sinking into economic depression, Indochine is gold for the Michelins. Jessie knows that the vast plantations near Saigon are the key to the family’s prosperity, and though they have recently been marred in scandal, she needs them to succeed for her husband’s sake―and to ensure that the life she left behind in America stays buried in the past.

Jessie dives into the glamorous colonial world, where money is king and morals are brushed aside, and meets Marcelle de Fabry, a spellbinding expat with a wealthy Indochinese lover, the silk tycoon Khoi Nguyen. Descending on Jessie’s world like a hurricane, Marcelle proves to be an exuberant guide to colonial life. But hidden beneath her vivacious exterior is a fierce desire to put the colony back in the hands of its people––starting with the Michelin plantations.

It doesn’t take long for the sun-drenched days and champagne-soaked nights to catch up with Jessie. With an increasingly fractured mind, her affection for Indochine falters. And as a fiery political struggle builds around her, Jessie begins to wonder what’s real in a friendship that she suspects may be nothing but a house of cards.

Motivated by love, driven by ambition, and seeking self-preservation at all costs, Jessie and Marcelle each toe the line between friend and foe, ethics and excess. Cast against the stylish backdrop of 1920s Paris and 1930s Indochine, in a time and place defined by contrasts and convictions, Karin Tanabe's A Hundred Suns is historical fiction at its lush, suspenseful best.

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. Her debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released by She Writes Press in September 2021. Visit to learn more.

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  • Tammy Pasterick

My Lithuanian great-grandparents, Sylvester and Victoria Dudenas, with their children, Lillian, John, Pearl (my grandma), and Walter in May 1939.

In March 2010, NBC premiered the genealogy documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are?, which features celebrities who go on a journey to trace parts of their family trees. As someone with three sets of great-grandparents who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century, I was immediately hooked. I was spellbound by the mystery and intrigue as famous actors and musicians traveled both domestically and internationally to trace the histories of their ancestors and uncover long-buried family secrets.

The revelations from these journeys ranged from peculiar to fascinating to shocking. For instance, Sarah Jessica Parker discovered that her tenth great-grandmother was condemned as a witch at the Salem Witch Trials. Brooke Shields investigated her father's royal past and learned that her paternal grandmother was an Italian princess whose brother married into the Spanish royal family. And Susan Sarandon was shocked to learn that her grandmother—who abandoned Sarandon's mother at the age of two—got married and had a baby in her early teens and later married both her second and third husbands while still married to her first. Sarandon's mother was a bigamist.

Another popular series, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., premiered on PBS two years later and followed a similar script. In each episode, celebrities are presented with a "book of life" that is compiled with information researched by professional genealogists, which often included the use of DNA testing. The findings were comical, ironic, and at times, disturbing. Bill Maher learned he is related to his political nemesis, Bill O'Reilly, Larry David discovered he is related to Bernie Sanders, Ginnifer Goodwin's grandmother developed a morphine addiction due to syphilis, and Ben Affleck's ancestors owned slaves.

My dad, Joseph, and his older brother, John, in 1946.

With such mixed findings, it's a wonder anyone—much less a celebrity—would want to go on a popular TV show and risk being presented with evidence that their great-grandparents were bank robbers, or worse yet, axe murderers. But what does all this information really mean in the greater scheme of things? Is Brooke Shields somehow superior to the rest of us because she's related to royalty? Is Ben Affleck suddenly a bad person because he descended from slave owners?

I took a deep dive into my own family's history in 2012 after I couldn't find my mom's recipe for stuffed cabbages. When I turned to Google to find a replacement for Nana's delicious holubky, I ended up on several different Slovak cultural websites, which ultimately led me to So began my months-long binge on the genealogy website where I found census records, draft registration cards, death certificates, and ship manifestos containing the names of my great-grandparents. I began to build my own family tree and studied the trees of distant relatives, who had shared theirs to the site. In doing so, I discovered that my best friend is actually my fifth cousin! Since sixth grade, Stacy and I had always wondered if we were related since her last name was the same as my grandmother's maiden one. Our families always assured us there was no connection, but little did they know, we share the same fifth great-grandfather who immigrated to America from Germany in the mid 1800s. Is this the reason we get along so well? Does our shared DNA explain why we can spend five hours on the phone talking about everything and nothing?

Stacy and I in Savannah, Georgia in May 2010.

I find genealogy both fascinating and fun. I was amazed when I saw the names of my great-grandparents, Stefan and Maria Pastirik on a ship manifesto from 1905. I had no idea they had changed their last name from Pastirik to Pasterick, although it was undoubtedly an attempt to hide their Eastern European ethnicity. Immigrants to America were often treated like second-class citizens at the turn of the twentieth century, so they were probably eager to assimilate. I was also surprised that my great-grandfather, Sylvester Dudenas, registered for the World War II draft even though his advanced age did not require it. It made me wonder about his motivation and gave me the impression that he must have been a dutiful man who deeply loved his adopted country.

I have had a very positive experience tracing my family's past, and there's still so much left to be discovered. I still don't know anything about the lives my great-grandparents led before they boarded a ship to America, and like Ben Affleck, I could someday discover that my ancestors had a dark past. The only way to find out is to hire a professional genealogist in Slovakia and Lithuania to continue my investigation. But do I need to? It's unlikely that my ancestors descended from Russian royalty or that my great-great-grandfather was a famous scientist who taught Marie Curie. And even if those facts came to light, they wouldn't have any impact on my current life or say something profound about my true potential. It's more probable that I descended from serfs, my great-great-grandmother was a prostitute, and I achieved my own measure of success in spite of it all.

My children, Ethan and Morgan, with Stacy's adorable girls, Reena and Maya, in July 2017.

I'm perfectly content knowing the names and origins of my great-grandparents and am grateful for all the family traditions they passed down to me, mostly in the form of delectable ethnic dishes like holubky, halušky, koláče, and potato pancakes. I still plan to travel to Slovakia and Lithuania one day and may even see if I can find out which villages my family came from, but I'm not interested in unearthing any long-buried family secrets. Whether I'm related to Catherine the Great, Boris Pasternak, or Attila the Hun makes no difference to me. The accomplishments or crimes of my distant ancestors don't say much about who I am today. The same is true of Brooke Shields and Ben Affleck. Sharing DNA with a particular person does not guarantee a life of greatness or failure. We are all unique individuals capable of charting our own courses and can choose to embrace or reject our family legacies.

As for me, I've embraced my Slovak and Lithuanian ethnicities and enjoy preparing my grandmothers' recipes for my own children—mostly because these food traditions remind me so much of the people who raised and loved me. And my months-long binge on was not only fascinating, it inspired me to write a novel where I imagined the lives of my great-grandparents who immigrated to America to work in the steel mills and coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. That deep dive into my family's past led me down a path I never expected and helped me uncover a hidden talent for writing. As for my long-lost fifth cousin, Stacy, knowing that we share the same DNA doesn't make me love her any more. Our friendship has deepened over the last thirty-five years, and I doubt our shared ancestors have anything to do with it. It's trust, respect, honesty, loyalty, and love that bind us together. We've celebrated each other's joys and cried on each other's shoulders more time than I can count. Stacy's always been family to me, and I don't need DNA evidence to prove it.

My debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released on September 21, 2021 and will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most major book retailers.

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. Her debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released by She Writes Press in September 2021. Visit to learn more.

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  • Tammy Pasterick

Updated: May 3

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The first time I got an indication that my English was different from the rest of Pennsylvania's was during a family vacation to Lancaster County. We had stopped at a gas station to fill our Buick's tank, and my parents thought I was old enough to wander into the convenience store alone to find something to quench my thirst. This was during the 1980s when gas stations did not resemble anything remotely close to Sheetz or Wawa, so all I saw were cartons of cigarettes and candy bars. When I shyly asked the cashier where all the pop was, the man looked at me like I had two heads. I repeated the word "pop" a few more times, thinking the old codger was deaf, but his bushy, furrowed brows and tilted head told me he'd heard me all right. The man was just confused. Finally, I said, "You know … Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew." The cashier's face instantly lit up as he said, "Soda! You want soda!" I think he might have slapped his leg and let out a huge belly laugh as he pointed to an old, rusty refrigerator. I was not amused.

Years later, when I was in college, I warned my friend Fawn that the steps outside the computer lab were slippy. She said, "You mean slippery." I said, "No. I mean slippy." She then proceeded to explain to me that slippy was not a word. Neither were gutchies, jagger bush, or nebby. (I believe I may have called my particularly nosy roommate nebby on more than one occasion.) Fawn and I had an interesting conversation that day about regional dialects, wherein I realized that people from Western Pennsylvania talk funny, while those from Harrisburg do not.

A view of dahntahn Pittsburgh from June 2016. My daughter and I had just finished a duck boat tour of the city.

When I moved to Philadelphia to work for the NLRB after graduating from Penn State, co-workers often asked me if I was from the South or Midwest. They couldn't quite place my accent. Well-meaning people often pointed out that I did not pronounce or use certain words correctly, so I grew a little self-conscious and made an effort to shake some of the colloquialisms I'd grown up with. It took some time, but I was mostly successful at softening my Pittsburgh accent and dialect. However, when I was teaching high school German several years later, a student named Kyle irritated me one day, and I shouted his name angrily. In my exasperation, I reverted to my Pittsburghese and pronounced his name as if there were no "e" on the end. What I yelled sounded more like "Kyl." One of my students immediately asked, "Where the heck are you from?" The whole class got a good laugh out of my slip-up, and we had an entertaining conversation about dialect, which was also very relevant to the study of German.

People who are not from Pittsburgh may wonder how our unique—and sometimes comical—dialect formed. The answer is simple—immigration. The Scottish and Irish were the first to arrive in Western Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and they brought with them the English second-person plural "you ones." Over time, the word evolved into the endearing pronoun "yinz," of which Pittsburghers are so proud. It is believed that words like slippy, nebby, and jagger bush also came from the Scots-Irish. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Eastern and Southern Europeans poured into the region to work in the steel and coal mining industries, they influenced the development of Pittsburghese as well. Since most of these workers were non-English speakers, they often had to learn their new language "on the street" through conversations with other non-English speakers. As these immigrants adopted each other's mistakes in pronunciation and word usage, a bastardized form of English formed, and accents blended in a way that didn't happen elsewhere.

When my kids were little, my dad often said, "Yinz better redd-up that mess you made and worsh your hands!"

These days, I don't hear much Pittsburghese as I spend most of my time with people from Maryland and Delaware. But I do get a kick out of visiting my friends and family in the Burgh and hearing my native tongue a few times each year. I especially enjoy the looks on my kids' faces whenever my dad says something to them in his Western Pennsylvania dialect. He often tells my daughter that her gutchies are showing, he warns my son not to throw a canipshun when the Stillers lose, and whenever the dog shreds a roll of toilet paper, he yells, "Linda, get the sweeper!" We all laugh when he complains that his latest construction project turned out cattywampus, but he always feels better after a few chipped ham sammitches and an Arn City.

Although I haven't lived in Western Pennsylvania for over twenty years, I am still a Yinzer at heart. Whenever I meet someone new here on the East Coast who has roots in the Burgh, it's so easy to strike up a conversation and reminisce about all the things we love and miss about our hometown. The Steelers and Penguins are always at the top of our list as are pierogies, Primanti Brothers sandwiches, and the Potato Patch fries at Kennywood. And when the conversation about sports and food ends, we laugh about all the quirky phrases we used as kids and share stories about playing in the crick, shooting our siblings with gumbands, and drinking lots of pop.

Glossary of common Pittsburghese terms.

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. Her debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released by She Writes Press in September 2021. Visit to learn more.

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