Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead

March 14, 2021

   I’ve re-read this one for our book group, and decided to focus on what might be the qualities in Tokarczuk’s writing which make her a Nobel Laureate – not that that particular accolade is a guarantee of anything. You can read my first take on the book here.

The heroine and narrator lives in a remote village in the mountains close to the Polish/Czech border. She immediately comes across as rather strange, for her world-view is deeply dependent on astrological interpretations of events and people, and she has a strong sense of animals having rights in the same way as humans do; as the novel progresses, Tokarczuk succeeds in having us empathise with and eventually respect and like her, as well as see the logic and the sense in such a response to the world.

This world picture is fully developed in the sense that the narrator takes it and us along with her wherever she goes, and she is always philosophising and reflecting on the world and trying to make sense of it in her own terms. Her rage at hunters and killers of animals knows no bounds, and a series of deaths – are they murders? – of locals connected with hunting form the core of the events and the mystery at the heart of the book: our suspicions grow as we wonder if the narrator is connected with them, and we look for gaps in her awareness and her narrative…

I shan’t give any more away. The book is eminently readable, though not gripping in the usual sense. In the end, the qualities I especially admired were the subtle sense of place she creates, the astonishingly conceived plot, the carefully developed characterisation, and the artistry in the writing, which of course I can only appreciate through the work of her excellent translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones’ work must have been extraordinarily difficult, as a side strand of the story concerns the narrator and a friend of hers attempting to translate some of William Blake’s verse into English, and comparing versions; that would work in a Polish text, obviously, and here the translator makes it work for English readers too!

It’s well-known that right-wing and religious circles in her country do not like Olga Tokarczuk, and when we read the episode where she heckles the local priest during his sermon on St Hubert’s feast day (patron saint of hunters) it’s easy to see why: her reflections on the sacrament are highly provocative. In the end, taken along with other of her work, including the equally astonishing Flights, I can see why Tokarczuk received the ultimate accolade.

One Response to “Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead”


  1. […] my money, Olga Tokarczuk really deserved the Nobel Prize: she pushes the boundaries. I returned to Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead recently, and now I’ve just re-read Flights. That’s not a particularly good translation of the […]

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