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Primeval and Other Times

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  6,989 ratings  ·  704 reviews
Set in the mythical Polish village of Primeval, a microcosm of the world populated with eccentric, archetypal characters and guarded by four archangels, this novel from Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk chronicles the lives of the inhabitants over the course of the feral 20th century in prose that is forceful, direct, and the stylistic cousin of the magic realism in Gabrie ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published January 20th 2010 by Twisted Spoon Press (first published 1996)
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 ·  6,989 ratings  ·  704 reviews

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May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

-Walt Whitman

Novels have a beautiful way of emphasizing events to draw a contained meaning from them. Some novels hone in on a short period of time, or a single life, and make epics of the moment, whereas some are epics for their grand scale. While Primeval, by Polish author and Nobel Prize recipient Olg
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
God sees. Time escapes. Death Pursues. Eternity waits.

Life is so dark and scary yet so lively. It regenerates itself. Life awaits death right from the moment of birth and stares at it with horror- ridden eyes, however those who understand life would do otherwise. The universe follows the same course. It takes birth, develops, sometimes into other universes, and then dies out. The process had been reconstructing and renovating itself since time immemorial and will continue to do, perhaps till et
Imagine a district shaped like a square, its four borders corresponding to the four cardinal points, and with straight roads and rivers marking those boundaries. Imagine that this square district is made up of sections, each section connected to the others, not only those it borders but sections further away too as if long trailing threads of different colors linked the various sections together as in embroidery or a patchwork quilt.

This book is such a patchwork quilt. It tells of a four-sided
Mayim de Vries
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
She just got the Nobel Prize for a different book but still - give this a try.

This is the best magical realism I read since the One Hundred Years of Solitude. Nothing else to add. End of review.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an intriguingly unusual book, and not one I feel I understood well enough to review adequately. It is an allegorical modern fairy tale set in a Polish village as it is subjected to the vagaries of twentieth century history. Tokarczuk's vision has a creator God at its centre, but one who has lost much of his power, and the whole thing is suffused with a rather surreal folklorish atmosphere. ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poland, coverlove
And Izydor looked again, just as Ivan Mutka had told him to. He strained his entire imagination and opened his eyes wide, until they started to water. Then for a brief moment he saw everything completely differently. Open space, empty and endless, stretched away in all directions. Everything within this dead expanse, every living thing was helpless and alone. Things were happening by accident, and when the accident failed, automatic law appeared - the rhythmical machinery of nature, the cogs and ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
From the get-go, this book struck some elemental chords within, sending me back to the innocence-that-wasn't we call childhood.

Set in Poland in the early 20th century at the start, it seemed much older than that, reminiscent of folk and fairy tales, particularly those rooted in our agricultural past. I can't remember the story, but I read one as a child about a turnip no one could seem to yank out of the ground. This, then, seemed like that---almost quaint in its "lost world" way, so far, far a
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I don’t generally get along with fables or allegories, but this is much more than a fable or an allegory. It’s rich and full; the characters more than archetypes, though some characteristics are borrowed from mythology and fairy tales—the brutal ones.

Primeval seems a mythical world, one hard for a villager to escape, though not many think to do so. The first male character is forced to leave by an outside war (WWI) and, as he does, his home starts to feel like a dream. Primeval, and its environs
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Olga does it again! Though I didn’t love this as much as “flights” or “drive your plow over the bones of the dead” I still REALLY liked this. It’s VERY existential and honestly gave me a bit of legitimate anxiety due to its intense discussions about death and how most people waste their lives on things that aren’t important. The writing was absolutely beautiful and each story was so profound and wonderful. I would say this reminds me of a fairy tale mixed with a new-religions sacred t
Jan 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: polish, tokarczuk
This is not a history of countries and governments, nor of generals and presidents. Rather, it is stories of people, just people: Pawel, Misia, Ivan Mutka, Michal, Izydor, Cornspike. And is about time, or Times, the Times of these people; the generations and the moments. It is a story of a town, Primeval, something from long ago that sways in the winds of history. We see the larger, newspaper headlines subtly: a forest from which soldiers do not return (Katyn); a red and white flag fluttering (S ...more
Katie Lumsden
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
I rather enjoyed this. It's a strange, meandering, fragmented book, telling the story of several families in a small Polish village over several decades of the 20th century. It has a sort of mythic/fable feel to it, with some very moving and interesting moments. ...more
Paul Fulcher
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
She was comforted by the fact that next year the same thing would happen again, as she knew it wasn't true. Next year the trees would be different - bigger, their branches weightier, the grass would be different, and so would the fruits.

Olga Tokarczuk's Prawiek i inne czasy was originally published in 1996, and was the novel that originally established her reputation. It was translated into English, as Primeval and Other Times by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and brought out by Twisted Spoon Press in 201
Chad Post
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. One of the best I've read this year; maybe one of the best I've read in the past decade. The way each little section (each of which is the "Time of . . . " someone or something) stands alone and yet builds into a shimmering whole is masterful, and broad in scope, as Tokarczuk depicts the 20th century and all its flawed glories through the lens of a single, small Polish town.

Eventually I'm going to write a longer, more serious review of this . . . It's a pretty mesmerizi
This is Olga Tokarczuk’s fourth novel, originally published in 1996. I have to say that I do have mixed feeling towards this novel. It started really well. It was imaginative, with a few characters that I was excited to find more about. There was an element of folklore mixed with magical realism but it was rooted in historical events (the novel starts at about the time of the First World War).

At about halfway through I started feeling a little restless. Although the story progressed and new cha
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What an absolute treat to have been introduced to the tiny Polish village of Primeval, more a settlement or hamlet than a village, it seems, where nothing much really happens: people are born, grow old and die; families lose contact with each other, suffer regrets, fall out, yearn, love and resent. Yet, this hamlet seems also to encapsulate the major events of the 20th century all within their small almost mythical space overlooked by the four archangels and bounded by the White River and the Bl ...more
Czarny Pies
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Enemies of John Paul II
Shelves: polish-lit
Those fortunate enough to know nothing about Poland will find “Primeval and Other Times” to be a dazzling display of literary legerdemain in which the key elements of Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude” and Borges’s “Labyrinths” are combined into a single coherent entity. Poles on the other hand will be horrified as Tokarczuk vigorously attacks the two things that are dear to them; that is to say, the national myth and God.
In her novel Tokarczuk presents 80 years of Polish suffering beginning in 1
Jun 16, 2010 marked it as to-read
By the author:

I turned on the TV Sunday afternoon, and the more the night drew on, the more I heard words like nation, victim, mystical coincidence, sign, accursed place, true patriotism, Katyn, truth. Politicians who only a few days ago were at each other’s throats are now speaking, in trembling voices, of “deep meaning” and “the metaphysics of Katyn.” Not much more than 20 years ago, some of these same people suppressed the truth about the deaths at Katyn to follow the Communist Party line.

I a
Joseph Schreiber
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
First off this is a gorgeous book, a treasure from the tiny Prague based publisher Twisted Spoon. Secondly it is magical, almost impossible to capture. Set in the mythical village of Primeval somewhere in Poland, it follows the lives and experiences of the people of this village and its surrounding communities through the twentieth century from the start of WWI to the rise of Solidarity. Three generations of the miller's family form the backbone of the story but there is no overriding or direct ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
I’d never heard of this writer, but the blurb on the back cover seemed very interesting to me. This turned out to be a very good book. The writing at times was of the five-start brilliant type. It’s been quite a while since I read a fiction of this quality.

The story happens in a small, imaginary village in the middle of nowhere in Poland, and spans over the most part of the 20th century. But you quickly realize that the story is not particular to this fictional village in Poland. It’s about hum
Mat C Sharp
a.k.a. the Gospel According to Olga Tokarczuk. Yes, I really do think so. This review could end right here, but perhaps there is someone out there who might care for me to elaborate.
Primeval is a village located in the middle of nowhere, because outside its borders there is nothing. It is, therefore, an archetype of a small society which goes through changes in time.
On a first level, we read about the everyday life in this little village in accordance with historical eve
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the joys of journeying through the world of literature in translation is the discovery of independent small publishers, their simple love of translating and promoting works from their niche areas ensuring quality products, not only in content but also presentation. One such publisher that I have latched onto this year is Twisted Spoon Press, an independent publisher based in Prague, which focuses on translating into English a variety of writing from Central and Eastern Europe. Their books ...more
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very much in the style of Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil, Primeval chronicles the lives of a dozen or so characters living in a sort of post-war agrarian wasteland. The most remarkable aspect, aside from the gorgeous prose, is the fine balance Tokarczuk manages to find between spirituality and cynicism. These characters all seem to lead pretty dismal lives, but depending on the chapter, these are either described as somehow part of God's divine plan or proof of his hatred or indifference towar ...more
Jeff Bursey
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very intense and involving. Disturbing also. Poetic without being precious. Hard realities throughout, while set in a quasi-mythic setting and language. Very much worth reading. Bought her only other title in english (at the time) based on this book.

I reviewed this book for RCF a few years ago, but Dalkey no longer houses the reviews in an easy-to-find way. But another site --

-- has the full text.
Nov 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Magical realism has no inherent virtue; it is merely a choice of setting. That choice gives an author options, as do other setting choices (like setting a book in the future or in an alternate history), but it is up to the author to use those options to best effect. Will the witch in the woods, the drowned ghost, the strange border surrounding the town, will those elements of magical realism amplify the story being told, cast it in a new light, add something to the tale that could not have been ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-polish
Magic, dreams and sad reality tangled together in a world where nothing is what it seems to be.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it liked it
I wish there was a half star to add to my rating to place it above other three star books. I more than liked it, but I didn't think it was up there with my four star reads. I may need to rethink this entire process, because my five star books are at a level where I feel that it is almost presumptuous of me to even give a rating. Who am I to rate Homer or Dante?

Oh well, enough whining! Unless I enter into the magical realism of the village of Primeval, I will have to face the reality that presen
Mar 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Primeval was like reading a very good science fiction book. It is fraught with symbolism and mysticism which is my favorite kind of science fiction. But this is not science fiction ...... it is a kind of fantasy based on real life in a Polish village, with characters developed from cultural archetypes. The writer has sourced real and ancient Polish legends, fairy tales and stories and spun them into the stories. In essence, Primeval is a village protected from modern day culture. The villagers a ...more
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"God sees, time escapes, death pursues, eternity waits"
This fantastic work from Olga Tokarczuk is a treasure trove of insights. People live their lives through generations, in ever-repeating cycles of time. God experiments with his many worlds, not happy with either creation, trying to trap humans into his control, until he gives up and things come to a rotting stagnation. Something bigger than God appears - a coffee grinder, around which the entire town of primeval revolves in an eternal patte
Paul Ataua
Apr 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Primeval is a mythical village in the heart of the forest with an array of strange and unusual inhabitants. It was well written and I wanted to like it so much, but as soon as I read about the white river and the black river, I realized I was reading an allegory and my head began to ache. I’m not wholly sure why I get little pleasure reading allegories. Maybe it is because the author is taking me on a journey and asking me to work hard to see what each thing means when I prefer to make my own wa ...more
Kiran Bhat
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look into 20th century Polish life through a cosmic narration.

In a similar vein to Marquez, Tokarzcuk delves into the lives of an imagined Polish village, creating deep and stirring meditations on the nature of religion, fate, and mankind. I prefer Flights, but this book was a very different and yet equally valiant experiment.
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Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland's most celebrated and beloved authors, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize, as well as her country's highest literary honor, the Nike. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into more than thirty languages.

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“Below the mill the rivers merge. First they flow close beside each other, undecided, overawed by their longed-for intimacy, and then they fall into each other and get lost in one another. The river that flows out of this melting pot by the mill is no longer either the White or the Black, but it is powerful and effortlessly drives the mill wheel that grinds the grain for bread.

Primeval lies on both the White and Black rivers and also on the third one, formed out of their mutual desire. The river arising from their confluence below the mill is called The River, and it flows on calm and contented.”
“Ludzie myślą, że żyją bardziej intensywnie niż zwierzęta, niż rosliny, a tym bardziej - niż rzeczy. Zwierzeta przeczuwają, że żyją bardziej intensywnie niż rośliny i rzeczy. Rośliny śnią, że żyją bardziej intensywnie niż rzeczy. A rzeczy trwają, i to trwanie jest bardziej życiem niż cokolwiek innego.” 4 likes
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