Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead


It can be both easier and harder to translate an author who is so aware of the translation process herself. The heroine of this novel and her friend are translating Blake into Polish; they come up with multiple versions of every stanza, and each one is slightly different. Like dominoes, changing one word has a knock-on effect.


Even if you don’t speak Polish, you can see the differences on the page. And you can see the differences on the cover, too. The edition I read has an image from the film based on untitledthe book directed by Agnieszka Holland, Potok/Spoor (2017): the trailer makes it a thriller, a murder mystery. The previous cover (Wydawnictwo Literackie, right) is perhaps more appropriate for a story about a woman immersed in Blake, fascinated by astrology, deeply committed to animal rights, and unafraid to challenge a church that is behaving like a direct successor to the previous communist rulers.

I read the book this summer, while travelling through Poland and to the mountains over the Czech border. So I was delighted to find that this is just where the story is set: the countryside not so far from Tokarczuk’s native Wrocław, in a mountain hamlet where the city people have their summer houses. After the first death, the heroine cannot call 999 on her mobile: she keeps getting redirected to the Czech operator. The Czech side seems civilised, warm and sunny compared to the harsh winter, uncompromising law and justice system on the Polish side. The authorities think the heroine is crazy. She is undoubtedly odd, and decidedly surprising. A sweet little old lady she certainly is not, but she has wonderful friends.

As the deer tracks in the snow around the next body melt away without a trace, we are left wondering if animal forces really are at work… is the heroine right? Are they wreaking their own punishment on the hunters who kill them for sport?

You can read an extract of Antonia Lloyd-Jones’ translation here. The whole book is out in English today from Fitzcarraldo Editions, who also published Tokarczuk’s Man Booker winning work, Flights.

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