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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
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September 2019: Cultural > Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk - 3 stars

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Joy D | 3090 comments Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk - 3 stars

PBT Comments: This book falls under the "Cultural" tag as representative of life in a rural village in Poland. I think it's more like 3.5 stars, but I couldn't quite bring myself to round up.

This book is an atypical mystery where the focus is not so much on a string of disappearances and deaths as on the state of mind of the first-person narrator, Mrs. Duszejko (Mrs. D), a sixty-something woman who lives in a rural Polish village and attempts to “assist” the investigators. It starts with a neighbor’s death from choking but promptly moves into a close examination of Mrs. D’s inner world. She is a former engineer, currently working as a teacher of English and assisting a former student in translating William Blake’s poetry into Polish. There are numerous references to Blake throughout the novel, and his verse opens each chapter.

Mrs. D’s eccentricities include:
• Preference for animals over humans
• Belief that certain laws are immoral
• Passion for astrology, how planets and star-signs rule a person’s fate
• Strong aversion to hunting and what she sees as religious hypocrisy
• Viewing the neighboring Czech Republic as a utopia of sorts

Readers will be able to tell that Mrs. D has issues, and these play a role in the plot. For the most part, her Ailments (as she calls them) are not spelled out but left up to the reader to decipher. This book poses philosophical questions that provide food-for-thought about the relationship between humans and animals. It explores the nature of the limits we place upon each other, and especially upon aging women.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I found it engrossing and was curious to see where it was headed. I tend to enjoy eccentric characters, and Mrs. D is quite a colorful individual. I liked her group of unusual friends, a group of fellow eccentrics, and could picture them sitting around a kitchen table, sipping cups of black tea, and discussing the goings on of the community. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Polish countryside in winter and what it is like to live in such harsh conditions. I learned several interesting facts about nature. I particularly liked the author’s expressive writing style (with credit to the translator, as I read the English translation from the original Polish). For example:
“We left the house and were instantly engulfed by the familiar cold, wet air that reminds us every winter that the world was not created for Mankind, and for at least half the year it shows us how very hostile it is to us. The frost brutally assailed our cheeks, and clouds of white steam came streaming from our mouths. The porch light went out automatically and we walked across the crunching snow in total darkness, except for Oddball’s headlamp, which pierced the pitch dark in one shifting spot, just in front of him, as I tripped along in the Murk behind him.”

On the other hand, if the author was going for social commentary, I do not think she succeeds, as some of her key points are contradicted through the characters’ actions. The logical result of these actions would be the opposite of what I believe is the intended message. It is hard to spell this out without spoilers. The subtle humor was a bit too dark for my personal taste and it contains rather gory and disturbing descriptions of deaths of people and animals. I am not sorry to have read it but felt a bit of a letdown at the end. If anyone is looking for a “literary mystery,” this book would be a good fit.

Link to My GR Review


Booknblues | 5358 comments That is a great review.

I like eccentric, but it went over the top at some point. It could have used some editing.

(view spoiler)


Joy D | 3090 comments Booknblues wrote: "That is a great review.

I like eccentric, but it went over the top at some point. It could have used some editing."


Thanks, Booknblues! I like eccentric too, and agree that it went over the top.


Booknblues | 5358 comments There was a point I was enjoying it and I was entertained by her eccentricities, but then the next moment it was, "Are we back to this again, just how much can I read about this?"


message 5: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments I just started this last night-have not read anyone's reviews here as I don't want to be influenced, but I am leaning towards what Booknblues just said-


message 6: by Joy D (last edited Sep 08, 2019 07:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joy D | 3090 comments I know what you mean. It got a bit repetitive after a while, especially the letters. I enjoyed the first half more than the second. I also should mention for mystery readers, there's not a lot going on for a good part of the book.


message 7: by Idit (new)

Idit | 1028 comments I actually found a copy of this book at work and it’s been sitting on my desk. Will get to it one day. Sounds like something worth giving a go to


Joy D | 3090 comments Idit wrote: "I actually found a copy of this book at work and it’s been sitting on my desk. Will get to it one day. Sounds like something worth giving a go to"
I definitely found it worthwhile and plan to read another of her books (Flights) at some point.


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