Olga Tokarczuk

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Olga Tokarczuk, Kraków (Poland), 2005

Olga Tokarczuk ([tɔˈkart͡ʂuk]; born 29 January 1962) is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation,[1][2] particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. She has published a collection of poems, several novels, as well as other books with shorter prose works. Her book Bieguni ("Runners") won the Nike Award 2008. She attended the 2010 Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her book Primeval and Other Times and other work. For her new novel Księgi jakubowe ("Jacob's Scriptures"), Tokarczuk won the Nike Award again in 2015.


Tokarczuk was born in Sulechów near Zielona Góra, Poland. 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.[3] 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 near Nowa Ruda, from where she also manages her private publishing company Ruta.

Published work[edit]

1989 saw the publication of Tokarczuk's first book, a collection of poems entitled Miasta w lustrach ("Cities in Mirrors").[3] 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, appeared in 1993 and gained her instant popularity with the audience and reviewers.

The follow-up novel E. E. (1996) 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 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. Parallel to but strangely detached from Poland's meandering political history during this time, it describes the continuum of all human joys and pains, which Prawiek seems to contain as in a nutshell. Prawiek... was translated into many languages (published in English in 2009 by Twisted Spoon Press) 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 ("Runners") 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 and unattractive 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. The novel poses questions about the responsibility of human beings towards nature and the dangers of them having a personal mythology.

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 2013 Tokarczuk was awarded Vilenica Prize .

In 2014 Tokarczuk published an epic novel Księgi jakubowe ("Jacob's Scriptures"). 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.[4][5]

Tokarczuk is a member of The Greens (Poland), a political party.



  • 1989: Miasta w lustrach, Kłodzko: Okolice. ("Cities in Mirrors")
  • 1993: Podróż ludzi księgi. Warszawa: Przedświt. ("The Journey of the Book-People")
  • 1999: E. E. Warszawa: PIW.
  • 1996: Prawiek i inne czasy. Warszawa: W.A.B. ("Primeval and Other Times". Twisted Spoon Press ISBN 978-80-86264-35-6)
  • 1997: Szafa. Lublin: UMCS. ("The Wardrobe")
  • 1998: Dom dzienny, dom nocny. Wałbrzych: Ruta. (House of Day, House of Night. Granta. ISBN 1-86207-514-X)
  • 2000 (with Jerzy Pilch and Andrzej Stasiuk): Opowieści wigilijne. Wałbrzych: Ruta/Czarne ("Christmas Tales")
  • 2000: Lalka i perła. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("The Doll and the Pearl")
  • 2001: Gra na wielu bębenkach. Wałbrzych: Ruta. ("Playing on Many Drums")
  • 2004: Ostatnie historie. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("The Last Stories").
  • 2006: Anna w grobowcach świata. Kraków: Znak. ("Anna in the Tombs of the World").
  • 2007: Bieguni. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Runners").
  • 2009: Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead")
  • 2012: Moment niedźwiedzia. ("The Moment of the Bear").
  • 2014: Księgi Jakubowe. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Jacob's Scriptures").

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