Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Olga Tokarczuk

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

French paperback with flaps, 272 pages | Paperback, 272 pages | Audiobook read by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize | Published 12 September 2018

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Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union

With Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Man Booker International Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. In a remote Polish village, Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people; she’s unconventional, believing in the stars; and she is fond of the poetry of William Blake, from whose work the title of the book is taken. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved in the investigation. By no means a conventional crime story, this existential thriller by ‘one of Europe’s major humanist writers’ (Guardian) offers thought-provoking ideas on our perceptions of madness, injustice against marginalized people, animal rights, the hypocrisy of traditional religion, belief in predestination – and caused a genuine political uproar in Tokarczuk’s native Poland.

Guardian Best Books of 2018 | The White Review Books of the Year 2018 | The Quietus Books of the Year 2019

‘A magnificent writer.’
— Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate

‘A writer on the level of W. G. Sebald.’
— Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News

‘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…. That this novel caused such a stir in Poland is no surprise. There, the political compass has swung violently to the right, and the rights of women and of animals are under attack (the novel’s 2017 film adaptation, Spoor, caused one journalist to remark that it was “a deeply anti-Christian film that promoted eco-terrorism”). It is an astonishing amalgam of thriller, comedy and political treatise, written by a woman who combines an extraordinary intellect with an anarchic sensibility.’
Sarah Perry, the Guardian

‘One among a very few signal European novelists of the past quarter-century.’
— The Economist

‘Aspects of dark fantasy permeate Olga Tokarczuk’s grimly comic tale of death and vengeance, set in a remote forested plateau on the border between two realms, with a cast of intelligent animals, ghostly apparitions, celestial influence and humans who resemble trolls, witches, giants and goblins…. Translated with virtuosic precision and wit by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Tokarczuk’s prescient, provocative and furiously comic fiction seethes with a Blakean conviction of the cleansing power of rage: the vengeance of the weak when justice is denied…. [An] elegantly subversive novel.’
Jane Shilling, New Statesman

‘Tokarczuk’s novels, poems and short stories consistently open up unpredictable wonders and astonishments, and there isn’t a genre that she can’t subvert…. Antonia Lloyd-Jones pulls off a flawless, intimate translation, even tackling the technically dazzling feat of presenting Blake’s poems as translations from English into Polish, back into English…. [Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead] will make you want to read everything that Tokarczuk has written.’
— Financial Times

Drive Your Plow is exhilarating in a way that feels fierce and private, almost inarticulable; it’s one of the most existentially refreshing novels I’ve read in a long time.’
Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker

‘Amusing, stimulating and intriguing … [Drive Your Plow] might be likened to Fargo as rewritten by Thomas Mann, or a W. G. Sebald version of The Mousetrap.… Olga Tokarczuk’s previous novel, Flights … was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize, for translated fiction, and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, though smaller in scale, will help confirm her position as the first Polish writer to command sustained Western attention since the end of the Cold War.’
— Leo Robson, The Telegraph

‘Janina is such an unusual, engaging narrator that her nihilism is strangely cheering; this was one of the funniest books of the year.’
— Justine Jordan, Books of the Year 2018, Guardian

‘A paean to nature … a sort of ode to Blake … [and] a lament … Does Tokarczuk transcend Blake? Arguable —perhaps.’

‘A winding, imaginative, genre-defying story. Part murder mystery, part fairy tale, Drive Your Plow is a thrilling philosophical examination of the ways in which some living creatures are privileged above others.’

‘Strange, mordantly funny, consoling and wise, Olga Tokarczuk’s novels fill the reader’s mind with intimations of a unique consciousness. Her latest novel to be translated into English, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead is simultaneously unsettling and oddly companionable. Suffused with William Blake, astrological lore, and the landscapes of middle Europe, it’s both a meditation on human compassion and a murder mystery that lingers in the imagination.’
— Marcel Theroux, author of Strange Bodies

‘I loved this wry, richly melancholic philosophical mystery. It’s a compelling and endlessly thought-provoking novel, luminous with the strangeness of existence.’
— Megan Hunter, author of The End We Start From

‘Sardonic humour and gothic plot-twists add a layer of macabre rustic comedy. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, an outstanding Polish-English translator, sculpts Janina’s English voice (complete with Blakean capitalisations) with panache.’
— Boyd Tonkin, The Economist

‘Tokarczuk’s novel is interested in anger; it follows the neural pathways anger travels, through the interior spaces of the human sensorium and the exterior world of politics, which makes it an especially timely book in these Tweetstorm times…. While Drive Your Plow undoubtedly aligns with the politics of the animal rights/vegan movements … Tokarczuk’s book complicates and delineates nuances within a broader socio-historical context. The range of her aim encompasses not only the ethical questions posed by hunting and meat-eating, but also a peculiarly Polish collusion of nationalism, theology and blood sports. Tokarczuk shoots a crossbow at the consecrated position the hunt has held in her country’s national identity and in doing so challenges a formidable coalition of the power elite of nationalist Poland.’
— Alice Lyons, Dublin Review of Books

‘I want to use the word “dense” to describe Plow, but it’s not hard going at all – it’s just that there is so much food for thought in Duszejko’s inner monologues and her interactions with others, in the unique way she looks at the world. There is a wonderful, fertile depth about the book, but it is worn lightly. While a completely different form than Flights, it is no less layered, ingenious or beautiful.’
— Marta Dziurosz, Glasgow Review of Books

‘Antonia Lloyd-Jones … 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.’
Michael Cronin, Irish Times

‘The English translation of Drive Your Plow could not have come out in a more pertinent moment in our complex, and often contradictory, understanding of the anthropocene. Tokarczuk responds to our irreversible times with serious conviction in depicting the human relationship to the natural world…. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is both an oracle and political treatise for our times, a triumphantly contained and slick novel that showcases the author’s ability to entertain and reflect; with her magnum opus, The Book of Jacob (translated by Jennifer Croft), due for publication in 2020, it is easy to see why Olga Tokarczuk is hailed as one of the most compelling and imaginative voices in contemporary literature.’
— Jay G. Ying, The Scores

‘Entering Mrs. Duszejko’s rich, eccentric world is like waking up in Oz, or falling into Wonderland. Everything, from the unreliable mobile phone signal to the patterns of the wind, is attributed character and motivation, so that the whole universe shimmers with intent, agency and hidden meaning.’
Jane Graham, The Big Issue


Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘Books that made me’ featured in the Guardian

Olga Tokarczuk in interview with the Irish Times


Olga Tokarczuk is the author of nine novels, three short story collections and has been translated into more than fifty languages. Her novel Flights won the 2018 International Booker Prize, in Jennifer Croft’s translation. She is the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Empusium is her fourth novel to appear in English with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Antonia Lloyd-Jones translates from Polish, and is the 2018 winner of the Transatlantyk Award for the most outstanding promoter of Polish literature abroad. She has translated works by several of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists and reportage authors, as well as crime fiction, poetry and children’s books. She is a mentor for the Emerging Translators’ Mentorship Programme, and former co-chair of the UK Translators Association.