August is “Women in Translation Month,” and reading Nobel Prize Winner Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a perfect way to mark the occasion.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones has superbly translated this Polish novel into English; readers of many levels and backgrounds, regardless of previous familiarity with Poland and Polish literature, will enjoy this book’s dark humor.
Central to this novel, elderly Mrs. Duszejko (God forbid someone calls her by her abhorrent first name, Janina) seeks justice amidst a series of murders in her remote village on the Polish-Czech border. Surrounded by people who generally disregard her due to her age, gender, and beliefs, Duszejko diligently pursues her own Hypotheses and Theories—about the murders, about identity, and about life and death more broadly.
Throughout the novel, readers must continually interrogate their own expectations of who a character is and how they should act based on certain characteristics. Stylistic disruptions, such as untraditional capitalizations, encourage readers to engage with the text and to contemplate names and meanings almost as much as the writer and translator—and especially the novel’s narrator—do.
Overall, Drive Your Plow… is satisfying on numerous levels and named by many (TIME, NPR, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and BookRiot) one of the “Best Book[s] of 2019.” For Virgo season (a nod to Mrs. Duszejko’s avid astrological studies), we ecstatically recommend this drily comedic thriller.