Olga Tokarczuk & Other Polish Writers

by | January 5, 2021 |

I’m taking my own advice for writers: Read. Read. Read. I recently got on a Polish writer kick. And began with Olga Tokarczuk. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018. So a good place to start.

Title Image: Olga Tokarczuk by Adrianna Bochenek/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters. No copyright infringement intended.

How did I get on my Polish kick? I may as well be honest. I started watching Polish movies and TV serials on Netflix. The show Ultraviolet hooked me. It involves a group of amateur sleuths who solve crimes in Łódz. (Pronounced ‘woodj’.) The police cannot do without them. It was fun to listen to the Polish and to enjoy watching the beautiful star, Marta Nieradkiewicz.

Marta Nieradkiewicz in her role as Ola Serafin, one of the Ultraviolets. She routinely declares “niewinny” (innocent) a character who is the chief suspect of the police. She is routinely correct.

It’s great to watch films. Over these past months I’ve taken a lovely tour around the world through K-drama and Polish drama, among others.

But now it’s time for me to quiet the voices outside my head. And listen to the music in my head provided by my fellow writers.

Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009)

Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead might qualify as “eco-horror fiction.” However, there is no need to label it.

The main character, Janina, offers a first-person account of the goings-on in her neck of the woods – which is actually the woods, near the town of Kłodzko. It seems that a serial killer is on the loose. And the men being killed are hunters. In Janina’s opinion, the killers are relatives of the animals who the hunters have killed.

Olga TokarczukThe second letter Janina sends to the police made the whole story worth it to me. In it she argues that the Animals are the perpetrators. She outlines the history of non-human perpetrators, beginning with the Bible: “where it is clearly stated that if an Ox kills a woman or a man, it should be stoned to death.” She continues with the trials of various Animals in Western Europe, including: Bees, Pigs, a Horse, a Hen, Rats, and even Caterpillars. It is of note that the Rats on trial in France in 1521 were acquitted.

The point of her letter is to petition the police to allow “the Deer and other eventual Animal Culprits” to go unpunished.

I won’t spoil the story by saying more. I can say it was worth spending some time in Janina’s head and her woodland life.

Michael Witkowski: Lovetown (2004)

Leaving the rural life of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow, I headed to Wrocław. Where I encountered a gritty and – dare I say? – nostalgic look back at the gay scene under Communism. Or, at least, I took it to be nostalgic.

The writer makes an appointment to interview Patricia and Lucretia, who are already old men. But in their heyday they were in the midst of the scene. Which included public toilets and Russian barracks. To their interviewer they explain how life “just isn’t what it used to be.”

“No soldiers, no park; and now the queens entertain themselves in modern, elegant bars that anyone can go to, bars crammed with journalists and wannabe movers-and-shakers. But they’re not queens anymore, they’re gays. Tanning salons, techno music, frou-frou. And no one has any sense of filth or wrongdoing – it’s all about having fun.”

I gather the sense of filth and wrongdoing are not negatives, but part of the thrill of the experience. Patricia and Lucretia describe a certainly colorful world. One with lots of edge, which is now – sadly from their POV – gone.

Lovetown consistently but not necessarily overtly reveals the way sexuality is imbricated in politics. Case in point, Solidarity, the 1980s anti-bureaucratic social movement in Poland.

Patricia and Lucretia didn’t know a single Solidarity Queen, the ones involved in the resistance. A men’s game, as far as they’re concerned, with the women in the shipyards were slicing bread and helping out.

They opine: “[The Solidarity Queens] had no place in the theatre of the sexes. Somehow, too, that feminine submissiveness typical of both homos and older (pre-emancipated) women kept them from taking part in the resistance. They wanted the system to take them from behind; they enjoyed being passive, submissive, obedient ….”

The passage speaks for itself.

Bolesław Prus: The Doll (1889)

Next I went on the hunt for a Polish reading experience that might be considered “classic.” (I suppose Olga Tokarczuk would now qualify as “classic.”) And this is where I am now, namely Warsaw, reading the highly acclaimed novel, The Doll.

The reading experience is Old World. Familiar. I’m letting myself sink into it. I’m liking the sense of two stories wrapping around one another.

More on this one, later.

Yikes! I’m 100 pages in and just realized that it’s 800 pages long.

Fridging versus The Grieving Widower


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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