In 2018, Olga Tokarczuk won the Noble Prize in Literature. This prestigious award was granted to her “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
I’ve spent the last week reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which was originally published in 2009. The translation copy I read was released in 2018 and was translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, published the book.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this murder mystery because it is not a genre that I normally read. To give you some perspective, The last consistent time in my life when I read this genre heavily was in my teens, and Agatha Christie was my favorite author. That was some time ago.
With this book, I was transported to a remote Polish village, where I was introduced to a number of quirky characters, each with a mysterious past. When one of them turns up dead under strange circumstances, Janina, our main character, finds herself being pulled into the investigation. The unlikely suspect(s) for the original and subsequent deaths left me bewildered and often shaking my head in disbelief.
The way Tokarczuk presented the story was masterful. The smallest details become relevant as the conclusion, as chilling as a winter in Poland, are revealed. I am proud to have this great work on my bookshelf!
One of the intricacies I most adored was the thread of William Blake throughout the entire story. Each chapter begins with an epigraph from numerous works of Blake, including Proverbs of Hell, Auguries of Innocence, and The Mental Traveller. By fusing these quotes, overtly applicable to each chapter, to the importance of William Blake’s work to the characters in the story, Tokarczuk allows us to connect with the story in a more meaningful way.
My least favorite parts of the book were those that delved deeply into astrology, which was quite necessary to the main story line. I have never cared to study astrology or horoscopes, so I feel that I may have missed the significance of some pieces of the murder-mystery puzzle. Even so, Tokarczuk presented the information of this subject in a way that allowed for someone like me who doesn’t study or understand astrology to see the picture she was painting. I appreciated that.
I have also purchased another work by Olga Tokarczuk called Flights, which I plan to read later in the year.
Up next in my year of reading the Nobel Laureates is Kazuo Ishiguro, a well-known and world-renowned Japanese author. Today begins that adventure!