Agnieszka's Reviews > Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych

Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk
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bookshelves: own-a-copy, 2009, tokarczuk, reviewed, 2017
Read 2 times. Last read July 28, 2017 to August 4, 2017.


For every thing that lives is Holy.

The action of the novel, the title could be translated as a quote from Blake’s Drive Your Plough over the Bones of the Dead, takes place in a remote mountain settlement in the beautiful Kotlina Kłodzka. That quiet, tranquil location suddenly is a place of murders of local hunters, with only animals’ tracks left on the crime scene. Revange of the game?

This one was promoted as an ecological and moral thriller with strong feministic and anarchic accents. But you can read it as well as a satire on provinionalism and insular way of thinking, as a critique of hipocrysy of clergy and local policymakers, accusation of upstart holidaymakers who think that nature is only for their pleasure, opposition to maltreating the old and weak, objection to misogyny and finally call for justice and mercy for all living creatures and respect for the nature world.

Look at this scene. It’s called display of trophies of the hunt. Hunters would say it means respect and tribute for animals but I find it only ridiculous and barbaric. (view spoiler)

Drive Your Plough over the Bones of the Dead has some unconventional protagonists with one particularly standing out from the crowd. Janina Duszejko is a bit eccentric not to say quirky old lady. She used to be an engineer but now after retiring looks after houses of absent neighbours, teaches English and translates William Blake's poetry, by the way trying to apply his views to a modern way of living. She also is a homebred astrologist and an ardent advocate of animals.

In my estimation it is not the best Tokarczuk’s novel but for sure it didn’t waste my time either. It has distinctive for her elements of magical realism, shows the beauty of the particular region in southern Poland, near Czech border, and its mountainous landscape, here in the wintry scenery and windy weather. Every chapter starts with quote from Blake what, in the long run, resulted in immersing myself in his strange, visionary world.

Even if you pay not too much attention to animals and their rights or to nature in general you still have something to ponder about. The message Tokarczuk delivers here is rather clear though the way she manages it it’s not always satisfying to me. Here and there strikes me as being unbelievable, at times it's guilty of naivety but nonetheless covers some important issues and rises even more questions. It makes us think of distinction between poaching and hunting, is that really any ?, of mindless acts against nature, of violence and cruelty towards animals and our double moral standards. Why do we find it unacceptable to tar suffering of people and animals with the same brush? Aren't we all the same under the skin? Why people, especially older women are so often object of dismissive remarks when they act on behalf of animals and their rights? Why do we think that hunting is wrong but a cutlet on our plate rarely makes us think about living creature once it was? And what do you think about slaughterhouse, poultry farm, or fox one? And when you answered yourself to these questions and agreed that killing animals is wrong thing what about slaying the evildoers, then?

3,5/5
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Reading Progress

December 12, 2009 – Shelved
December 30, 2009 –
page 32
10.0%
December 30, 2009 –
page 100
31.25%
Started Reading
December 31, 2009 –
page 142
44.38%
December 31, 2009 – Finished Reading
July 28, 2017 – Started Reading
August 4, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat Tokarczuk's name rings a bell with me, have you reviewed any other of her books?


Agnieszka Apart of this one I haven't reviewed any of her works. She's also the author of House of Day, House of Night and my favourite of her Primeval and Other Times. Both were translated into English so it's very probable you came across somewhere on her name.


message 3: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Well, quite deeply charged novel, Agna! You do a great job in peeling off the many issues that can be read in this multi-layered story and pique my curiosity more than effectively. I had never heard of this author, now I will keep her on my radar for further reference...


Agnieszka Lada Fleur wrote: "Oh a very nice Polish authoress who must be bilingual and in love with , Wlilliam Blake's poetry whose views must go hand in hand in her chapters. Very nice indeed"

Yes, Lada. I found her writing here, and themes she brings up quite interesting and rather compelling. I've read some her works that I liked better but nonetheless I thought it was a good story. Also it was filmed recently by Agnieszka Holland, haven't seen it yet, and before I watch the movie I wanted to refresh it in my memory.


message 5: by Agnieszka (last edited Aug 06, 2017 12:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Agnieszka Dolors wrote: "Well, quite deeply charged novel, Agna! You do a great job in peeling off the many issues that can be read in this multi-layered story and pique my curiosity more than effectively. I had never hear..."

You're spot on, Dolors. The novel rises diverse subjects and leaves us with some dilemmas and uncomfortable truths. I liked her other works, esp.Primeval and Other Times that I could wholeheartedly recommend.


message 6: by Ilse (new) - added it

Ilse Poignant questions, Agnieszka, how we treat animals says so much about human nature and the horror we find in ourselves, animals triggering the tendency to cognitive dissonance in our beliefs and behaviour. I'll look for the one you recommended to Dolors!


Agnieszka Ilse wrote: "Poignant questions, Agnieszka, how we treat animals says so much about human nature and the horror we find in ourselves, animals triggering the tendency to cognitive dissonance in our beliefs and b..."

Couldn't agree more with your words, Ilse. And will be genuinely interested what you think of Tokarczuk's writing when you get to it.


Anna Sounds very interesting Agnieszka, I think I should pay more attention To Olga Tokarczuk... I only have one other novel by her that, I am ashamed to admit, is still unread. I had an ambitious plan once, to get to know more of contemporary Polish writers, and didn't really follow through.
Thank you for this review. I will get back to Tokarczuk soon and look for this one next time I am in Poland.


message 9: by Agnieszka (last edited Aug 06, 2017 04:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Agnieszka Thanks, Anna. I don't know your taste yet but I think I could recommend some Polish readings I valued very much, apart from Tokarczuk these would be: Stone Upon Stone, or Gottland. You could also try Szczepan Twardoch or Joanna Bator. Don't know about English or Swedish translation but you can read them in original. Also if you like good crime story with finely drawn protagonists you may give a go A Grain of Truth and two other from the series.


message 10: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna Agnieszka wrote: "Thanks, Anna. I don't know your taste yet but I think I could recommend some Polish readings I valued very much, apart from Tokarczuk these would be: Stone Upon Stone, or [book:Gottl..."

Agnieszka, thank you so much! The thought to ask you for recommendations crossed my mind when I wrote my comment :-), and before actually.... I read 'Stone upon stone' and 'Gottland' and liked them both. Less luck med Twardoch, read ‘Morfina’ and so truly and deeply hated the protagonist that I don't even have a point of view on how the book as a whole :-) I am aware of the fact that he was and anti-hero and it might have been the point but it was just too much... I did like 'Piaskowa gora' by Joanna Bator though ... and I will keep in mind 'A grain of truth'. I read 'Bezcenny' by the same author and liked a lot. I also have a confession to make - it is no coincidence that I happened to have chosen the books that you recommend… your GR-library and your ratings helped me to make my choices in the bookshop. Now I feel guilty, for doing it without your knowledge, please forgive me, and if you have other recommendations I would be very interested :-).


message 11: by Agnieszka (last edited Aug 07, 2017 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Agnieszka There's nothing to forgive, Anna, I'm really glad if I could be helpful :) As to Morfina I really liked it and admired author's style here, it was different and quite unique, kind of reckless in Polish literature. And you're quite correct about Konstanty Willemann, he's anti-hero, rogue and cynic, faithless husband and bad father, and yet I was fascinated by him and his search for identity. If you liked Bator I could recommend Ciemno, prawie noc, maybe not her best novel, though it was Nike-winner, but still a good reading. And what about essays? I loved beautiful, wise and erudite writings of Herbert in Barbarian in the Garden.


message 12: by Petra-X (new)

Petra-X that was an interesting review. Especially since I can't read the blurb. I enjoyed reading the review a lot.


message 13: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna Agnieszka wrote: "There's nothing to forgive, Anna, I'm really glad if I could be helpful :) As to Morfina I really liked it and admired author's style here, it was different and quite unique, kind of reckless in P..."

Thank you again, I am especially interested in Herbert but both now added to my TBR list!


Agnieszka Petra Eggs wrote: "that was an interesting review. Especially since I can't read the blurb. I enjoyed reading the review a lot."

Thanks, Petra. I know her other works that I mentioned above were translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. So may it be that this one too will be. As for now I found an excerpt of it. Here Drive your plough.
Tokarczuk mentions here also some animal trials. To contemporary reader these stories sound like something ridiculous and mostly absurd. But it was quite interesting and educative.


Agnieszka Jean-Paul wrote: "Thank you for this write-up, Agnieszka, which really makes us stop and think about our value system and how through education and upbringing we are flawed in our judgement of what is right and acce..."

Thank you very much, Jean-Paul. The novel definitely made me pause for a moment to rethink some matters either.


message 16: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh I enjoyed rereading your review having just finished reading the new English translation.
Thanks for sharing that photo - the one Tokarczuk describes in the penultimate chapter sounds very similar!


Agnieszka You're very welcome, Hugh. I'm glad Tokarczuk found in you such an ardent reader. And it gladdens me immesely that almost all her best works are translated now into English.


Antonomasia In the Polish text, are capital letters used for some common nouns that don't usually take them, e.g. Zwierzę?

I'm interested in whether the translator is simply reproducing this - and if this sort of capitalisation is also found in Polish and seen as a sign of eccentricity there too - or if she is introducing an English tic (which I've seen used by one or two real people similar to the narrator) to demonstrate an aspect of the character.


Agnieszka Yes, Tokarczuk writes with capital letters quite a lot here. Not only animals ( Deer, Dog etc), but also other common nouns. Night, Horror or Ailments among others. And the narrator definitely is an eccentric person. Is it your first Tokarczuk, Anto? Will be curious your response to her writing and to the particular title.


message 20: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh Agnieszka wrote: "Yes, Tokarczuk writes with capital letters quite a lot here. Not only animals ( Deer, Dog etc), but also other common nouns. Night, Horror or Ailments among others. And the narrator definitely is a..."
In that case I suspect that the translator has respected the author's capitalisation. All of your examples sound familiar - I used Ailments as an example when commenting on this in my review of the translation.


message 21: by Antonomasia (last edited Oct 04, 2018 03:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia Blake uses it (there's a quoted paragraph), and it was more normal in writing of his time. That'll be at least part of the origin. I missed that above! Great to know it's there in the Polish too.

Yes, although I've owned other books of hers for years and read pretty much every article I've ever seen in English *about* her, recommended her to other people, given her books as gifts... I don't know if you have other writers that, whom you feel like you know more about than some you have read, despite not having read a whole book yet. (Knausgaard is another one of those for me.)


message 22: by Ann-Marie (new) - added it

Ann-Marie I enjoyed reading your review, Agnieszka. It is unlikely that this book will be translated into English soon, but the issues it raises are universal.


message 23: by Ann-Marie (new) - added it

Ann-Marie I was incorrect. The English translation, "Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of the Dead," will be out in August. I am looking forward to reading it.


Agnieszka Ann-Marie wrote: "I was incorrect. The English translation, "Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of the Dead," will be out in August. I am looking forward to reading it."

Thanks, Ann- Marie. It's been translated into English already like her other works as well. And it gladdens me for in my opinion she's among the most important Polish authors. She has distinctive views and is quite defiant in her opinions. For sure strong and pronounced voice in contemporary Polish literature. Will be curious your response to her writing. Enjoy!


message 25: by David (new)

David That is a very powerful last question, Agnieszka.


message 26: by Luna (new) - added it

Luna Saint Claire Great review!


Pharlap You wrote: ".. ardent advocate of animals".
I do not know how she can be an advocate if at the same time she accuses (wrongly) animals of committing crimes and even quotes precedences - cases of animals being summoned to courts.


Antonomasia Yeah, that does contradict the book's most obvious politics. The only interpretation I've found which makes any sense of that is to read her as Baba Yaga, herself part of the forest and nature and taking revenge on humans *together* with the animals of the forest.


Pharlap Antonomasia wrote: "Yeah, that does contradict the book's most obvious politics. The only interpretation I've found which makes any sense of that is to read her as Baba Yaga, herself part of the forest and nature and ..."
Excellent explanation! Thank you.


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