DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD by Olga Tokarczuk

From the Jacket

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 . . .

My Thoughts

My brain is in a fog right now and I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts on this novel, so I’ll keep it short and sweet: I don’t know what I was expecting from Olga Tokarczuk’s Polish novel-in-translation, DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, but it absolutely took me by surprise!

“You know what, sometimes it seems to me we’re living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves.  We decide what’s good and what isn’t, we draw maps of meanings for ourselves…  And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for ourselves.  The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other.”

For me, the real standout of DRIVE YOUR PLOW is its protagonist; Tokarczuk’s novel is a character-driven novel if there ever was one.  Our narrator is an older Polish woman named Janina (but don’t call her that).  She spends her days as a house caretaker, translating William Blake’s poetry, teaching English to schoolchildren, and studying her neighbor’s horoscopes.  No one in town takes her seriously, especially when she argues that her neighbors are being murdered by revenge-seeking deer (!!).  Janina is a wonderfully crafted protagonist; even though I didn’t personally relate to her or even “like” her, Tokarczuk forced me to sympathize with Janina until the very last page.

“I’m the one to define what I can want.”

It’s no surprise Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature.  DRIVE YOUR PLOW says some really lovely things about animal cruelty and human rights, and about speaking up in a society that won’t listen to you.  At a time when my brain isn’t functioning at its highest capacity, I’m not sure I could fully grasp everything Tokarczuk was trying to say, but what I did get from it, I loved!

Further Reading

“One by One, Her Neighbors Are Dying.  An Elderly Polish Woman Is on the Case.” by Sloane Crosley, The New York Times
“Meat is Murder” by Stephanie Sy-Quia, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Olga Tokarczuk’s Gripping Eco-Mystery” by Rachel Riederer, The New Republic

8 Comments

  1. Literary Elephant

    Ooh, I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I adored the narrative voice in this book, though as you say she’s not the most likable character always. Yet she’s very compelling, perhaps even moreso for her abrasiveness. I’m very keen to try more of Tokarczuk’s work after reading this one. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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