Tokarczuk in 2019
|Education||University of Warsaw (BA)|
|Occupation||Essayist, novelist, poet, psychologist, screenwriter|
The Books of Jacob
Primeval and Other Times
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
|Awards||Nike Award (2008, 2015)|
Vilenica Prize (2013)
The Man Booker International Prize (2018)
Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (2018)
Nobel Prize in Literature (2018)
Prix Laure Bataillon (2019)
Olga Nawoja Tokarczuk ([tɔˈkart͡ʂuk]; born 29 January 1962) is a Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual who has been described in Poland as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft). In 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Tokarczuk is particularly noted for the mythical tone of her writing. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw and published a collection of poems, several novels, as well as other books with shorter prose works. Flights won the Nike Award, Poland's top literary prize, in 2008. She attended the 2010 Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her book Primeval and Other Times and other work. With her novel Księgi Jakubowe (The Books of Jacob), Tokarczuk won the Nike Award again in 2015. In the same year, Tokarczuk received the German-Polish International Bridge Prize, a recognition extended to persons especially accomplished in the promotion of peace, democratic development and mutual understanding among the people and nations of Europe.
Tokarczuk is a leftist, a vegetarian, and feminist. She has been criticized by some groups in Poland as unpatriotic, anti-Christian and a promoter of eco-terrorism. She has denied the allegations, has described herself as a "true patriot" and has said that groups criticizing her are xenophobic and damage Poland's international reputation.
Tokarczuk was born in Sulechów near Zielona Góra, in western Poland. One of her grandmothers was from Ukraine. Before starting her literary career, from 1980 she trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. During her studies, she volunteered in an asylum for adolescents with behavioural problems. After her graduation in 1985, she moved first to Wrocław and later to Wałbrzych, where she began practising as a therapist. Tokarczuk considers herself a disciple of Carl Jung and cites his psychology as an inspiration for her literary work. Since 1998, Tokarczuk has lived in a small village Krajanów near Nowa Ruda, from where she also manages her private publishing company Ruta.
Tokarczuk's first book was published in 1989, a collection of poems entitled Miasta w lustrach ("Cities in Mirrors"). Her debut novel, Podróż ludzi księgi ("The Journey of the Book-People"), a parable on two lovers' quest for the "secret of the Book" (a metaphor for the meaning of life) set in 17th century France, was published in 1993.
The follow-up novel E. E. (1995) took its title from the initials of its protagonist, a young woman named Erna Eltzner, who grows up in a bourgeois German-Polish family in Breslau (the at that time German city that was to become the Polish Wrocław after World War II) in the 1920s, who develops psychic abilities.
Tokarczuk's third novel Prawiek i inne czasy ("Primeval and Other Times") was published in 1996 and became highly successful. It is set in the fictitious village of Prawiek (Primeval) at the very heart of Poland, which is populated by some eccentric, archetypical characters. The village is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Prawiek's inhabitants over a period of eight decades, beginning in 1914. Prawiek... was translated into many languages (published in English in Antonia Lloyd-Jones' translation by Twisted Spoon Press in 2009) and established Tokarczuk's international reputation as one of the most important representatives of Polish literature in her generation.
After Prawiek..., Tokarczuk's work began drifting away from the novel genre towards shorter prose texts and essays. Her next book Szafa ("The Wardrobe", 1997) was a collection of three novella-type stories. Dom dzienny, dom nocny ("House of Day, House of Night", 1998), although nominally a novel, is rather a patchwork of loosely connected disparate stories, sketches, and essays about life past and present in the author's adopted home since that year, a village in Krajanów in the Sudetes near the Polish-Czech border. Even though arguably Tokarczuk's most "difficult", at least for those unfamiliar with Central European history, it was her first book to be published in English.
House of Day, House of Night was followed by a collection of short stories – Gra na wielu bębenkach ("Playing on Many Drums", 2001) – as well as a non-fiction essay Lalka i perła ("The Doll and the Pearl", 2000), on the subject of Bolesław Prus' classic novel The Doll. She also published a volume with three modern Christmas tales, together with her fellow writers Jerzy Pilch and Andrzej Stasiuk (Opowieści wigilijne, 2000).
Ostatnie historie ("The Last Stories") of 2004 is an exploration of death from the perspectives of three generations, while the novel Anna in the Catacombs (2006) was a contribution to the Canongate Myth Series by Polish publisher Znak. Tokarczuk's book Bieguni ("Flights") returns to the patchwork approach of essay and fiction, the major theme of which is modern day nomads. It won both the reader prize and the jury prize of the 2008 Nike Award.
In 2009 the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was published. It is written in the convention of a detective story with the main character telling the story from her point of view. Janina Duszejko, an old woman, eccentric in her perception of other humans through astrology, relates a series of deaths in a rural area near Kłodzko, Poland. She explains the deaths as caused by wild animals in vengeance on hunters.
Tokarczuk is the laureate of numerous literary awards both in and outside Poland. Besides the Nike Award, the most important Polish literary accolade, she won the audience award several times, Prawiek i inne czasy being the award's first recipient ever. In 2010, she received the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis. In 2013 Tokarczuk was awarded the Vilenica Prize.
In 2014, Tokarczuk published an epic novel Księgi Jakubowe ("The Books of Jacob" in Jennifer Croft's provisional translation). The book earned her another Nike Award. Its historical setting is 18th century Poland and eastern-central Europe and it deals with an important episode in Jewish history. In regard to the historical and ideological divides of Polish literature, the book has been characterized as anti-Sienkiewicz. It was soon acclaimed by critics and readers alike, but its reception has been hostile in some Polish nationalistic circles and Olga Tokarczuk became a target of an internet hate and harassment campaign.
In 2015, Tokarczuk was criticized by the Nowa Ruda Patriots association, who demanded that the town's council revoke the writer's honorary citizenship of Nowa Ruda because, as the association claimed, she had tarnished the good name of the Polish nation. The association's postulate was supported by Senator Waldemar Bonkowski of the Law and Justice Party, according to whom Tokarczuk's literary output and public statements are in "absolute contradiction to the assumptions of the Polish historical politics". Tokarczuk asserted that she is the true patriot, not the people and groups who criticize her, and whose alleged xenophobic and racist attitudes and actions are harmful to Poland and to Poland's image abroad.
In 2017, her novel Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych ("Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead") was the basis of the crime film Spoor directed by Agnieszka Holland, which won the Alfred Bauer Prize (Silver Bear) at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.
Olga Tokarczuk is the recipient of the 2015 Brückepreis, the 20th edition of the award granted by the "Europa-City Zgorzelec/Görlitz". The prize is a joint undertaking of the German and Polish border twin cities aimed at advancing mutual, regional and European peace, understanding and cooperation among people of different nationalities, cultures and viewpoints. Particularly appreciated by the jury was Tokarczuk's creation of literary bridges connecting people, generations and cultures, especially residents of the border territories of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, who have had often different existential and historical experiences. Also stressed was Tokarczuk's "rediscovery" and elucidation of the complex multinational and multicultural past of the Lower Silesia region, an area of great political conflicts. Attending the award ceremony in Görlitz, Tokarczuk was impressed by the positive and pragmatic attitude demonstrated by the mayor of the German town in regard to the current refugee and migrant crisis, which she contrasted with the ideological uproar surrounding the issue in Poland.
Tokarczuk was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019 for her "narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life". The 2018 award had been postponed due to controversy within the Nobel committee.
- Miasto w lustrach [The City in Mirrors] (in Polish). Warszawa: Zarząd Główny Związku Socjalistycznej Młodzieży Polskiej. 1989. OCLC 958216951.
- Podróż ludzi Księgi [Journey of the People of the Book] (in Polish). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. 2019. ISBN 9788308068328. OCLC 1100409432.
- E.E. (in Polish). Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. 1995. ISBN 9788306024449.
- Prawiek i inne czasy [Primeval and Other Times] (in Polish). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo W.A.B. 1996. ISBN 9788387021016. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Twisted Spoon Press. ISBN 978-80-86264-35-6.
- Szafa [The Wardrobe]. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. 2005 [Originally published in 1997]. ISBN 8308037461. OCLC 69459712.
- Dom dzienny, dom nocny [House of Day, House of Night] (in Polish). Wałbrzych: Ruta. 1998. ISBN 9788390028194. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Granta, ISBN 1-86207-514-X. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-1892-8.
- with Pilch, Jerzy; Stasiuk, Andrzej (2000). Opowieści wigilijne [Christmas Tales] (in Polish). Wałbrzych: Czarna Ruta. ISBN 9788391286579.
- Lalka i perła [The Doll and the Pearl] (in Polish). Translated by Miłosz, Czesław. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. 2018 [Originally published in 2001]. ISBN 9788308060926. OCLC 1084594348.
- Gra na wielu bȩbenkach: 19 opowiadań [Playing on Many Drums: 19 stories] (in Polish). Wałbrzych: Ruta. 2001. ISBN 9788391286593.
- Ostatnie historie [Final Stories] (in Polish). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. 2017 [Originally published in 2004]. ISBN 9788308060568. OCLC 1038639296.
- Anna w grobowcach świata [Anna in the Tombs of the World] (in Polish). Kraków: Znak. 2006. ISBN 9788324007394. OCLC 776149653.
- Bieguni [Flights]. Translated by Croft, Jennifer. New York: Penguin. 2018 [Originally published by Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków, in 2007]. ISBN 9780525534198.
- Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych [Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead]. Translated by Lloyd-Jones, Antonia. New York: Riverhead Books. Penguin. 2019 [Originally published by Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków, in 2009]. ISBN 9780525541332.
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- Flights. Translated by Jennifer Croft. New York: Penguin, 2018. ISBN 978-0525534204
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. New York: Penguin Random House/Riverhead Books, 2019. ISBN 9780525541332.
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- Ruth Franklin, "Past Master: An experimental novelist and the battle for Poland's national narrative", The New Yorker, 5 & 12 August 2019, pp. 20–26. "Her role, as she sees it, is to force her readers to examine aspects of history – their own or their nation's – that they would rather avoid. She has become, she says, a 'psychotherapist of the past.'" (p. 26.)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Olga Tokarczuk.|
- Nobel Prize-Winner Olga Tokarczuk in Conversation with John Freeman on Literary Hub, 10 October 2019.
- Review of House of Day, House of Night in The Guardian
- Short biography at www.polishwriting.net
- Travel Files, article by Olga Tokarczuk January 2010, English, originally published in Polityka
- Olga Tokarczuk at Twisted Spoon Press
- Olga Tokarczuk at Culture.pl
- short-listed for second Booker Prize 4/2019 Polish novelist nominated for back-to-back Booker Prize