Part-time writer and full-time foot fetishist, Olga Tokarczuk, won the Nobel Prize for Literature (Silly Languages Category) in 2018. Having never heard of her (and unable to find anything about her on TMZ.com), we concluded she does not exist.
However, we stumbled across her book, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones, in Book No Further, which is not the worst book shop in Roanoke. According to the book’s cover, Ms. Tokarczuk is from Poland and inexplicably writes in Polish, which explains why we and TMZ never heard of her. As an aside, writing in Polish seems to be a poor marketing decision – one that she should reconsider if she hopes to have any success.
As made clear in Drive Your Plow, Ms. Tokarczuk loves feet and William Blake – for many of the same reasons. Early on the narrator confesses that she must wash her feet thoroughly before going to bed. Perhaps this is because “[i]t is in the feet that all knowledge of Mankind lies hidden; the body sends them a weighty sense of who we really are and how we relate to the earth.” But if you need more proof of her fanaticism for feet, Big Foot is the name of the first character to die in this fantastical murder mystery. (Spoiler alert).
So according to Ms. Tokarczuk (and by extension, all of Poland), feet are not weird and disgusting. What is weird and disgusting is our concept of reality. The narrator argues that humans are programmed to reject reality; that the “human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth . . . The psyche is our defense system – it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering.” Major theme alert: don’t trust your brain, trust your feet. So that’s weird.
Drive Your Plow is a wonderfully unusual murder mystery. At times the reader is swept away with philosophical discussions on animal rights, astrology, feet, Blake’s poetry, and feet. Then the reader remembers that the body count is now up to three and each death has been grisly. According to the narrator, an older woman who lives alone, free will does not exist. Instead, our lives are controlled by the stars and planets, with the most powerful being Uranus. And this is undoubtedly true – just think of how you fear the whims of Uranus every single day.
For this odd and unreliable narrator, human rights and animal rights are indistinguishable. In fact, animals may have the better claim to Earth. Certainly the Polish winter in this book would be cruel and inhospitable to any person, as we are not born with any practical protections against its harshness. Accordingly, we are fools to believe this world was created for us – so perhaps it was created for the animals. This strident belief drives the narrator and the entire story to a conclusion that probably will not surprise the observant reader. But the joy is in the travel, and at the end the reader is thankful for the Czech Republic. Name one other instance when that has ever happened.
A final word about William Blake. At one time people apparently read him. Ms. Tokarczuk is the only person who still does. There are wonderful quotes and references to Blake throughout the story, and they enrich it. Ms. Tokarczuk is so enthralled with Blake that she compels one of her characters to become a translator of Blake’s poetry into Polish – thereby condemning him to a life of poverty, futility, and anonymity. In a book crammed with horrors, this may be the most horrific of all.
Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans