Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Mon, 08/04/2019 - 11:52
‘It’s a classic murder mystery that starts with a dead body.’ Author Olga Tokarczuk tells us about her longlisted book while translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones talks about promoting Polish literature in this next Man Booker International Prize 2019 interview.
Olga Tokarczuk, author of Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead
What has it been like to be longlisted again?
It’s wonderful. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I’m still feeling the effects of winning last year’s award – I’m doing a lot of travelling and meeting my readers around the world. My old book, Flights, has come back to life again. And now Drive Your Plow... is having a new lease of life too.
Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead?
Outwardly, it’s a classic murder mystery that starts with a dead body, of course. But it’s a book to be read on lots of different levels. You can stay at the level of the crime novel, but you can also go a bit deeper and read it as the story of a decent, law-abiding person’s revolt when she suddenly discovers that the law that’s in force is immoral. The story is narrated by an eccentric woman in her mid-to-late-sixties, and there’s a lot of black humour in it.
What effect has winning last year’s Man Booker International Prize had on you?
The Man Booker International Prize really does have an effect. Other foreign publishers were immediately interested in my work, and the ones who had already published my books decided to reissue them. Having the MBI label on the books is a real passport to success.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones, translator of Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead
What has it been like to be longlisted?
It’s great that this book is getting the attention it deserves – of course since Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft won the MBI prize last year for Flights, Olga has taken her rightful place among world writers at last, and that has automatically driven up sales of Drive Your Plow… too. It has been a long journey, so it’s gratifying, after years of joint effort to find her the right publisher, to have two successful books in a row. Drive Your Plow… is very different from Flights, but it proves Olga is not just a one-hit wonder.
What did you most like about translating Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead?
Getting closely acquainted with Janina Duszejko, the eccentric woman who narrates the story. As an occasionally cantankerous, sometimes reclusive 57-year-old female, I can identify with her on several levels, and there’s something that she and I share in particular, which is that we are both ardent animal rights activists. While her approach is somewhat unconventional, there are moments when I feel inspired by her, though perhaps it would be unwise to let my passion express itself quite as freely as she does.
You’ve recently won a medal for promoting Polish literature. Is Poland having a moment?
I think it’s more that the UK is having a moment. The UK finally woke up to the existence of contemporary Polish literature when Poland was chosen as the market focus for the 2017 London Book Fair – suddenly publishers wanted to issue something in time for it, or shortly after. That’s how Flights came to be published in March 2017, to coincide with the book fair. That, and Olga and Jennifer’s win last year, has been very good for Polish literature in the UK. In Poland they have deep respect for translators and others who work hard to promote their culture to the outside world, so I had the honour of being awarded a medal for my contribution. The appreciation that Jennifer and I have been shown in Poland for our work is phenomenal. Can you imagine a foreign translator of British literature being awarded a medal here?