Book Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

How do you decide which books to read?

When it comes to my TBR pile, I am invariably feasting or starving (I wanted to say famine-ing but then you might roll your eyes and silently bewail the dearth of qualified book bloggers in 2020.)  The eLibrary Overdrive app lets me put holds on up to 10 titles and then efficiently checks them out to me whenever my number is up.  Unfortunately, this means I often have 10 titles to read at one time in 21 days…or nothing.

So when I can’t read the titles I’m jazzed about because I am too cheap to buy them, and apparently the library is as well when they only purchase 2 copies and there are 159 people on the waitlist, I think to myself, “Certainly there are lots of books out there that are very good that you haven’t even heard of.  Who would know about such books?”

Google, of course.

DriveYourPlowThe googling commences, I cull the options by genre, and frankly, number of pages, and then either add another title to my hold list at the eLibrary or, miracle of miracles, check out the title.  The former is more likely.  

And that is how I came to read Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk.

That might seem like a long wind-up before even arriving at a mention of the book I am reviewing.  The book is a bit the same way. 

But before we get into all that review stuff, here’s how my google results—otherwise known as Time Magazine’s “The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2019”—lured me into reading it:

Olga Tokarczuk, who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, trains her imaginative mind on the story of Janina, a 60-something Polish woman with an otherworldly appreciation for animals. It’s a love that, much to her outrage, runs counter to the most popular activity in her small Polish village: hunting. When the town is hit with a string of murders, Janina is certain there must be a connection to the killings of animals. As the misunderstood protagonist intrudes on the police case, Tokarczuk raises essential questions about whose voices are privileged above others.

Nobel Prize for Literature?  Zany older person living in a quaint Eastern European village?  Murders to be solved?  Count me in!

Unfortunately, there was a lot of skim-worthy material in Tokarczuk’s book.  Janina loves herself a horoscope and goes on and on…and on…about this planet and that sign and ascending and “in a negative aspect”….

During these passages, the book completely ground to a halt for me.  And it wasn’t just the talk of horoscopes.  The story dragged quite a bit as Janina shared her theories on life and details of her rather lonely existence.  I’m, like, already going COVID stir crazy, Janina, please. 

Perhaps I was expecting too much the familiar trope of the odd-but-lovable older protagonist who, although dismissed by the police, actually ends up solving the crime.  In reality, this story centers more on a woman whose grip on sanity slips sadly away a little more every day, right under the noses of the callous public officials and welfare agents and clergy who should be taking more care.

Not only that, but I made the mistake of reading the book blurb before I started the book.  If you’d like to have the book completely ruined for you and then still read it, by all means, read the book blurb.

This is not to say that I didn’t see a glimmer of what Time saw shining through in Drive Your Plow.  There are moments of wry humor that made me think (hope) Janina was going to be okay after all.  For example, her neighbor friend invites her to a ball for the Penny Buns Mushroom Pickers’ Society.  Janina is sitting on the sidelines, talking with a high society wife:

The music became even brisker and noisier, for now they were playing “Hey Falcons.” Everyone who hadn’t yet danced leaped to their feet as if scalded and headed for the dance floor.

As someone who is “scalded” quite often when music and dancing are present, upon reading this I snorted out loud.

Still…the book is really rather sad and the ending predictable (or maybe that was just the darn book blurb).  Maybe I’ll have better luck with another title on Time’s “Best Of” list: The Nickel Boys.  

Until then…

My Rating:  3 Stars

Titles Mentioned


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