It has been years since I read any book by Olga Tokarczuk, I remember in my early twenties I liked the slow dreamy rhythm of her prose, but somehow the older I got the less drawn to it I was. It didn’t seem to sit right with the pace of my life, as if it belonged to those long summer vacation during my studies. I needed a push to try her prose again and the push came in the form of Christmas gift. I was putting off reading this book, because I remembered how much I enjoyed Tokarczuk’s books when I was younger, but I was worried that I’ll be bored with it now and this will spoil my good memories. As it turned out the fear was completely unjustified.
It is a difficult book to review, because it is neither character driven nor plot driven, it is a book about time and place, people and their stories. Nothing seems to happen in it, but yet things happen. For me it was a meditation on many things, a meditation made possible by slowing down to take a closer look at nature, at history. Meditation made possible by finally asking questions about past, present and future, whether the time actually matters, do things change or are they always the same. How important are we, do our lives make a difference and do they have to? It is also a book about a place that seems to always be there with people just drifting through it, their lives, so important to them, do not matter so much to the place and yet their stories shape it, little by little. It is a book about things that last and things that change, about saints and sinners, about ‘the big stuff’ and the mundane, about men and women and people who are both or neither. For me it was also about perceiving things from a slightly different angle, not taking things so completely for granted.
I’m really happy I read this book, it made me slow down, forced me to match its pace, to read slower. I had days when I was not drawn to it, because my mind was still in hectic mode, but on other days I just couldn’t stop reading. It was like the long, boring, sunny summer days of childhood, when I thought those days would last forever. But it was also like those long, cold, dark winter nights, when I sat under a blanket reading and I also thought it would last forever. It was like going back in time and finding an old forgotten friend waiting with a smile. I’m very happy I finally decided to come back to reading books by Tokarczuk. I read the original, but I really hope the translation was able to convey the dreamy and yet so focused and sharp quality of her writing.