Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead [book review]

I read (the French translation of) this novel, by Olga Tokarczuk, whose title comes from a poem by William Blake:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

Actually Blake is central to the story as the main narrator is helping a former student of her to translate Blake letters and poems into Polish. Although she is a retired civil engineering. And an astrologer. And a free-thinker. And a feminist. And an ecologist fighting hunting and hunters. Plus a potential hypochondriac. While the book is promoted (at least in French) as an unusual type of countryside murder mystery, the rendering of the psychological complexity of the narrator and of the local community is much more powerful than the murder inquiry itself, in a picaresque spirit that reminded me very much of the best novels of Arto Paasilinna. Because, while supported by the many practical aspects of the almost recluse life of this ageing woman, the story keeps escaping reality and realism, to the point I was utterly surprised by the ending of the book. Apart from the lengthy if necessary passages about astrology, I really enjoyed reading about Janina Duszejko (not Dushenko!).

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