Title: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Author: Olga Tkarczuk (Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
Published: 2019 (Riverhead Books, New York)
Genres: Fiction, Murder-Mystery, Crime Thriller, Polish Novel
This book was surreal to read from beginning to end. Tokarczuk transports the reader to a remote town in Poland where snow is almost a plot device since it is spoken about so often throughout the book. This thriller-mystery with a gruesome title was captivating, not because the plot was unique or exciting, but because of how the author evaluates each character. The characters are drawn out, no matter how small, and their behaviors and outlooks are vividly revealed. The twists and turns in this murder mystery were minimal, but how Tokarczuk writes about the main character was my favorite part of the book.
“Other people’s life stories are not a topic for debate. One should hear them out, and reciprocate in the same coin” – Olga Tokarczuk
This novel communicates how our behavior and philosophies affect others. The author also effectively makes the reader sympathize with the main character, Janina. An older woman who lives alone outside of a small town in Poland near the Czech Republic border who translates the work of William Blake, and loves astrology and animals, most of all her two missing dogs she views as her daughters. I won’t get into the plot too much, because I don’t want to spoil anything. But I loved getting to know Janina’s character, and I was almost drawn in too much to her tumultuous, but solitary life.
“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” – Olga Tokarczuk
A connection I made with the book was that my dad’s grandparents grew up in different small Polish towns along the Polish-Czech border, like the one in this novel. I thought of them a lot while reading this book. I never met them before, but I learned a lot about them through my dad’s family and websites like Ancestry.com. I’m not saying their lives were like the characters in the book, but I believe those connections make the reader more prone to opening up to a book. And I had that connection, and kept wondering what it was like for them to grow up in that area of the world. I knew the facts, but it would have been interesting to learn what it was like from their view. But for now, I have a view of these towns through Takarczuk’s characters in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
“The prison is not outside, but inside each of us. Perhaps we simply don’t know how to live without it” – Olga Tokarczuk
I definitely recommend this book if you love thrillers and characters that draw the reader in. I was also instantly captivated by Tokarczuk’s writing upon reading this book, and describe her writing as concise and inviting. She has also won a Nobel Prize in Literature, and this book won the Man Booker International Prize. Her merit, and well-developed characters and writing made me a fan of hers instantly. I plan on reading more books she’s written in the future.
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!