Title: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Pub Date: original 2009, American translation coming out on August 19th, 2019
My Rating: ★★★★★
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“Extraordinary. Tokarczuk’s novel is funny, vivid, dangerous, and disturbing, and it raises some fierce questions about human behavior. My sincere admiration for her brilliant work.”—Annie Proulx
In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind…
A deeply satisfying thriller cum fairy tale, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is a provocative exploration of the murky borderland between sanity and madness, justice and tradition, autonomy and fate. Whom do we deem sane? it asks. Who is worthy of a voice?
I started reading this book yesterday, it is my first read of the acclaimed polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk. After her success, last year, winning The International Man Booker Prize for Flights she gained recognition around a world, and many of her books were being translated into English and published in English speaking countries that in my eyes dominate publishing world. I was curious to read her book, I even bought it, but never got to it. But fate had it that I noticed that her other book Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead was being published in America this year with a really pretty cover. Next day I was in a library and I intuitively went looking for this book on the shelves. I checked it out and started to read it.
Initially, I wasn’t convinced by the writing style, it’s definitely unique. The main character it mysterious and at the beginning tells us very little about herself. Because of the remote location of the story, I felt like it was set in some older times without electricity, so I was shocked to see cars, mobile phones and laptops. A remote village in the middle of winter, neighbors waking you up in the middle of the night to tell you that your only other neighbor is dead is an eerie start to a novel and doesn’t seem like a modern world.
My initial worry about the writing style was quickly suppressed by the intrigue. The story is not at all your typical crime mystery. The main character is inserted into the story by circumstances. Janina is a witness to the scenes of the crime, she has her suspicions, but those are balancing on a fine line between fantasy and reality. Even though she’s discouraged from voicing her opinions on the crimes, she is dedicated to letting police and people in the nearby villages know what she has seen.
This book quickly become one that I was sad to finish, I was even feeling sad each time I had to put it down. Sometimes I had just a few minutes to read, and I quickly had to put the book down and it truly was painful. It’s rare to have such a relationship with a book. I am amazed in a way that author was able to blind me and lead me through the story, leaving clues but revealing the truth only at the end.