Polish writer, Man Booker Prize 2018 winner and 2018 Noble Prize in Literature winner, Olga Tokarczuk’s book is no ordinary read. Just like the title, the book is complex. Mind you, I have used the adjective ‘complex’ here, in admiration.
The plot is essentially a murder mystery. But unlike other murder mysteries which take the form of a thriller; Olga gives it a fable like spin. The story meanders at its pace. The protagonist is Janina Duszejko; an old woman in this small, almost uninhabitable polish village bordering the Czech Republic, who has taken upon herself to solve the murders and firmly believes that it’s the Animals who have committed the crime.
As impossible and imbecile as it may sound, Janina embarks on this quest and relentlessly drives into us and the people in her village, how much of it is actually not improbable.
Helping her make a foolproof case is Astrology. It forms an eminent narrative in the proceedings. The constellations, planets, Ephemerides; all are explained in great detail to help understand the astrological extrapolations onto our human life.
The book also makes a strong case for vegetarianism. All through the book, killing of animals for food or pleasure has been condoned. Olga makes us believe that in no way should we consider ourselves superior to animals.
The book is very spiritual so to speak. The subtext is very philosophical. The murder mysteries almost become a euphemism for life and death. Olga spends time constructing this philosophical universe, explaining its depth, rhythms and surprises. William blake’s quotes make this narrative poetic literally. (The title is borrowed too 😀).
I found the setting of this book to an extent personal. The polish village is set near the banks of the Oder river . Also there’s mention of Szczecin, which is a small town in Poland. I had visited Szczecin in 2018 and had had beer and pizza at a restaurant overlooking the Oder river. Reading these names in the book, made me feel jubilant.
The book is a translation. Brilliant work by Antonia Lloyd-Jones who is an award winner herself.
The harsh polish winter is quite a central character in this book. So much so that I started imagining everything in hues of grey and hoar. I also feel Frances McDormand would be the perfect casting for Janina if ever a movie were to be made in english. (There’s already a polish film adaptation of the book).
“Everything will pass. The wise Man knows this from the start, and has no regrets.”
You need to take time out to read this. A book by a Noble Prize winner shouldn’t come easy.
~ JUST A GAY BOY . 🤩