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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel Hardcover – August 13, 2019
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The book opens with a widely disliked neighbor found dead in his home. As more local figures are murdered, Janina develops a peculiar theory that brings her closer and closer to the truth. Between the indelible first-person voice and the pitch-perfect translation of author Olga Tokarczuk’s original Polish, it’s easy to forget that this engaging portrait of small town life is also a devilishly well-plotted crime novel. —Katy Ball
PEN America Translation Prize longlist
Warwick Prize for Women in Translation shortlist
“A marvelously weird and fablelike mystery. . . . Authors with Tokarczuk’s vending machine of phrasing . . . and gimlet eye for human behavior. . . are rarely also masters of pacing and suspense. But even as Tokarczuk sticks landing after landing . . . her asides are never desultory or a liability. They are more like little cuts — quick, exacting and purposefully belated in their bleeding. . . . This book is not a mere whodunit: It’s a philosophical fairy tale about life and death that’s been trying to spill its secrets. Secrets that, if you’ve kept your ear to the ground, you knew in your bones all along.” — New York Times Book Review
“While it adopts the straightforward structure of a murder mystery, [the book features] macabre humor and morbid philosophical interludes [that] are distinctive to its author. . . [and an] excellent payoff at the finale. . . . As for Ms. Tokarczuk, there’s no doubt: She’s a gifted, original writer, and the appearance of her novels in English is a welcome development.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Drive Your Plow is exhilarating in a way that feels fierce and private, almost inarticulable; it’s one of the most existentially refreshing novels I’ve read in a long time.” — The New Yorker
“A paean to nature. . . a sort of ode to Blake. . . [and] a lament. . . Does Tokarczuk transcend Blake? Arguable —perhaps.” — NPR
“A brilliant literary murder mystery.” –Chicago Tribune
“ A winding, imaginative, genre-defying story. Part murder mystery, part fairy tale, Drive Your Plow is a thrilling philosophical examination of the ways in which some living creatures are privileged above others.” – TIME
“Shimmering with subversive brilliance . . . . this is not your conventional crime story—for Tokarczuk is not your conventional writer. Through her extraordinary talent and intellect, and her ‘thinking novels,’ she ponders and tackles larger ecological and political issues. The stakes are always high; Tokarczuk repeatedly rises to the occasion and raises a call to arms.”—HuffPost
“Sometimes the opening sentence of a first-person narrative can so vividly capture the personality of its speaker that you immediately want to spend all the time you can in their company. That’s the case with . . . Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead . . . [a] barbed and subversive tale about what it takes to challenge the complacency of the powers that be.” —Boston Globe
“Bewitching. . .. Serious crosscurrents … explore everything from animal rights to predetermination to the way society stigmatizes and marginalizes those it considers mad, strange or simply different . . . Tokarczuk is capable of miracles and ensures that this extraordinary novel soars.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Sardonic humour and gothic plot-twists add a layer of macabre rustic comedy." – The Economist
"One of the funniest books of the year.” – The Guardian
“Written with humor, charm, and a great talent for mystery … a sharp, memorable alternative to those dime-a-dozen beach bag potboilers without losing any of the whodunnit appeal.” —Town & Country
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Using frequent capitalisations to create a homely phraseology, Olga Tokarczuk describes Duszejko’s way of life, her wry observations and musings on a wide variety of everyday issues, her deep convictions, for example on animal rights, her interest in astrology and William Blake, and her cynicism of human behaviour. It’s a charming engaging read.
The interpretations and convictions of isolated individuals have validity, though they are dismissed as eccentric by conventional society. For those who have the courage to pursue them to their logical conclusion, conflict with that society is inevitable.
Tokarczuk's "Flights" won the Man Booker International Prize last year. "Drive Your Plow," published 10 years ago in Polish, has now made it to the English-reading audience and is long-listed for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Man Booker International.
"Drive Your Plow" is flooded with tension, yet Janina's tale of life and death and the environment and astrology in the passing of a year is almost languid. Janina lives year-round in a remote Polish summer resort conclave, tending her neighbors' cottages, teaching English in town one day a week and continuously in conflict with the vapid, the corrupt and, most especially, the hunters.
She is older and has Ailments. Given names are unsuitable, so she renames people as she sees them. She has little use for television but relies on her laptop. On Friday nights, she makes vegetable soup for a former student and they translate Blake.
And the murders begin, each a bit unearthly, more than a little symbolic and, Janina is convinced, committed in karmic ways by creatures of the forest. Look at the evidence! Deer. Foxes. Bugs. Could hosts of animals and insects exact revenge against the humans who disrespect them the most?
But no one will listen.
Until they do.
If you’re looking for a good read, two novels that didn’t get nearly the kind of attention this one got but are actually funnier and more engaging are: I AM GOD by Giacomo Sartori and SAMUEL JOHNSON’S ETERNAL RETURN by Martin Riker. Oh, and THE HANGING ARTIST by Jon Steinhagen is lots of fun too.
Top international reviews
She also describes the beauty of the wilderness and the harsh winters.
Made me want to read more of her work.
Set in a remote holiday village, where a few locals live permanently, a neighbour of Janina’s is found dead. Some more deaths occur, which are strange. Stranger still are Janina’s foibles- she refers to her friends/neighbours/associates by nicknames, such as Oddball and Bigfoot (Bigfoot is the first to be found dead). She is driven by astrology. Her main concerns are animals and is hugely opposed to the killing of them or any type of cruelty.
So, there’s a murder mystery as to who is responsible for the deaths of the random victims, starting with Bigfoot and what is the connection.
The storyline alternates between puzzling, as in ‘what’s this about?’ and hilarious. It’s certainly different but will not appeal to many who prefer a more gripping thriller. Worth a look, I’d say.
It’s more of a whydunnit than a whodunnit, and she builds a slow but fascinating pile for the fire at the end of the book: she creates a real three-dimensional portrait of the uplands along the Polish-Czech border - the forests, heaths, villages, people - while she weaves her story among the astrology, the hunters and William Blake.
But it is also a tale where she amplifies the spirit, resilience and importance of unimportant, ordinary folk everywhere.