In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology and translating the poetry of William Blake. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit. If only anyone would pay her mind...
... marvelously weird and fablelike ... Tokarczuk is a vocal feminist writer and it’s no accident that the more Duszejko’s sanity is called into question, the more relatable her plight becomes ... Authors with Tokarczuk’s vending machine of phrasing and gimlet eye for human behavior (her tone is reminiscent of Rachel Cusk, with an added penchant for comedy) are rarely also masters of pacing and suspense. But even as Tokarczuk sticks landing after landing, her asides are never desultory or a liability. They are more like little cuts — quick, exacting and purposefully belated in their bleeding. If Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, was built for ambience, Lloyd-Jones’s translation of Drive Your Plow was built for speed ... Only the extended passages on astrology threaten to derail the reader. Lyrical as they are, they could be airlifted out of the novel without causing any structural damage. Tokarczuk successfully aligns these pages with the book’s broader themes, but one can feel that argument being made. Like an insurance policy against skimming ... This book is not a mere whodunit: It’s a philosophical fairy tale about life and death that’s been trying to spill its secrets. Secrets that, if you’ve kept your ear to the ground, you knew in your bones all along.
This mixture of graphic realism...and broad speculation are characteristic of the style of Olga Tokarczuk, one of the most distinctive and original voices in contemporary European literature ... Tokarczuk’s singular achievement is to show how the marginalised, the disregarded, the despised have access to ways of knowing that are outside the perimeters of conventional thinking ... Like her heroine, who sees everything as connected to everything else and every event bound up by a 'complex cosmos of correspondences,' Tokarczuk has a compelling capacity to seek out parallels or juxtapose stories or experiences that constantly draw the reader off trail ... Tokarczuk has every reason too to be grateful for the linguistic friendship of another translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones who has once again done a remarkable job of capturing the uncanny distinction of Tokarczuk’s prose in English. There is much to admire in this book and even more to learn.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead—...arriving in a deft and sensitive English translation—provides an extraordinary display of the qualities that have made Tokarczuk so notable a presence in contemporary literature ... a mere whodunit would hardly satisfy a novelist who said 'just writing a book to know who is the killer is wasting paper and time,' and so it is also a primer on the politics of vegetarianism, a dark feminist comedy, an existentialist fable and a paean to William Blake ... Though the book functions perfectly as noir crime – moving towards a denouement that, for sleight of hand and shock, should draw admiration from the most seasoned Christie devotee – its chief preoccupation is with unanswerable questions of free will versus determinism, and with existential unease ... In Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation, the prose is by turns witty and melancholy, and never slips out of that distinctive narrative voice. It also contains perhaps the most bravura translation performance I have ever seen ... It is an astonishing amalgam of thriller, comedy and political treatise, written by a woman who combines an extraordinary intellect with an anarchic sensibility.