Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Ten members were able to attend and were welcomed to this month’s meeting at The Cloisters to discuss the above book with apologies received from several other members unable to be with us for the evening.

It was generally thought that this book was quite a tough read with all members also agreeing that it took some time to actually get into it. Several members admitted not being able to finish or having to scan through several pages at times. With a murder in the first few pages, expectations were high but most were disappointed and agreed the book started as quite a boring read – it proved a definite challenge initially. It was felt that having unexplained capital letters in the middle of sentences was irritating as was the interspersed poetry of William Blake which did not help with the flow of the text and had left a number of members feeling this may have been due to the way it was translated from the Polish language.

But in saying the above, quite a few members said that surprisingly enough once they reached a certain point in the book (a fair way in!!) everything suddenly began to click and they even began to like it to a certain extent. Although only three murders took place they were sure there were really probably several others!! It was thought that the central character Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman, was someone they could not really make out. She showed signs ranging from compassion to evil and along the way veered towards fantasy, with a couple of members suggesting that her mental state could have been an illness perhaps prompted by her isolation living as a recluse.

We liked her humour with the naming of Oddball and Big Foot for her neighbours and it was thought she had a genuine love of children and a definite love of animals especially her two dogs. She was thought to be a highly intelligent woman too, and later towards the end of the book there was sheer amazement that she was able to hide in a cupboard whilst the house was being thoroughly searched and not be found!! A couple of members said that at times they felt sorry for her but then immediately struggled to continue to do so. The twist at the end was not what most members were expecting and they did not see it coming.

Luckily we had the lovely Dana who had also obtained a copy of the book in her native Polish language and was actually reading both copies!! She had also been busy doing a bit of research for us on the main subject matter of the custom of the hunting of animals contained in the book and of course the differences in Polish cultures which had been threaded throughout the book too. She explained how up until a few years back the hunting custom had been the norm with it even being something that the whole family joined in with. She also gave everyone an insight into how everyone would sing themed folk songs in the forests dressed as animals and sang us a few lines in Polish which everyone said reminded them of folk songs they had heard from other countries too. She explained the translation of the words of these and on being asked whether as she was reading the book in the two languages she could throw some light as to whether she could agree with quite a few of our members that there was a definite feel of lost in the translation to parts of the book. She said she felt this was probably the case moreso with the translations in connection with the explanations of emotions.
So to summarise……………… A book of peaks and troughs, with the constant and unexplained use of CAPITAL letters in the middle of SenTencEs irritating at times, as was the poetry. Although this was a book with a proper story, it did not always come together cohesively as a novel. It was also a slow starter (very very slow!) but with a good twist at the finish. It wasn’t totally disliked and several members could not really say why exactly but they DID!! Then there were quite a few who did not finish it and some who scanned it leading to a real mixed review this time. A tough read generally.
Our members agreed though they could really NOT recommend to a friend.