Namo Namaha friends, it’s almost a month since I wrote a review. I have been reading this entire month but I couldn’t bring myself to write a review post for any of them. Today I finished a book that I had been meaning to read for quite a long time now. Am glad I could finally finish it and judge for myself the hype around this book.
Book Name – Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Author – Olga Tokarczuk (Winner of Nobel prize in literature)
Genre – Fiction
Category – Literary
Year of publication – 2009 / translated in 2019
Publication house – Riverhead books
Goodreads rating – 3
Representation – Old persons
Though the book was simple enough in premise, plot, and characters. Once I completed it, and let the story seep into my brain, I had trouble sorting through my thoughts and feelings regarding it.
In short, I cannot fully say if I liked the book or not. For the first time in my reading life, I don’t have a verdict. Oh! I have plenty of opinions and questions. I hated some parts and loved some. But, if you ask me to add it all up and give you a number I can’t because I am not sure if the sum of the parts is really an accurate indicator of my feelings for this book.
Ok, so I do realize I am rambling so let me start it all from the beginning. From the synopsis.
This is a story of an old woman named Janina who lives all by herself in a remote Polish village. She leads a simple, content life with her Ailments and old people problems even during the winter when most of the population prefers staying in the cities/towns. One day her neighbor she refers to as Big Foot ends up dead, which in turn leads to a chain of murders of high profile people. Janina claims to know who’s done it. But her theories are stranger than fiction and hence are summarily dismissed by everybody. Will the murderer be found? and What are their motivations? forms the crux of the story.
Let me tell you I went in expecting horror or at the least a good mystery thriller. This was neither and that’s partly why I was so sorely disappointed by the end of this book. This is literary fiction with some excellent philosophical ramblings and that’s it. There’s no story. This book could have been 50 pages and you still would have had your story. But I diverge.
My lack of enjoyment was purely due to my misunderstanding. If you get into it as a literary fiction then your enjoyment of this book will be infinitely more than mine. While I thoroughly enjoyed the philosophical queries and ruminations I kept hoping for the thrill that never came, for the suspense that never was.
👍 Favorable points
Now there were many aspects of the book that I enjoyed, those parts justified all the awards heaped on this book. The hype was apparently for the way words were used.
The spool of thoughts was laid down so beautifully on paper that we as readers could unravel it in whichever way we wished to. Sometimes I couldn’t untangle them and I got confused but the times I could. Oh! the bliss!
My entire book is filled with tabs and paragraphs I have marked up for future reading. Now I realize this blog post is too small a space for those amazing verses.
Still, I’ll give you a peep into some of my favorites:
Animals have a very strong sense of justice. I remember the look in their eyes whenever I did something wrong, whenever I scolded them unfairly or failed to keep my word. They’d gaze at me with such awful grief as if they simply couldn’t understand how I could have broken the sacred law. They taught me quite basic, plain, and simple justice. We have a view of the world, but Animals have a sense of the world, do you see?
It’s strange how the Night erases all colours, as if it didn’t give a damn about such worldly extravagance.
Also, there’s a hilarious letter where she lists the historical cases of crimes committed by animals. My favorite part from that letter:
In 1659 in Italy, the owners of vineyards destroyed by Caterpillars submitted to them a written summons to court. Pieces of paper with the wording of the summons were nailed to trees in the area, so the Caterpillars might become acquainted with the indictment.
As I said I have some absolute gems of verse marked up in my book that I am sure to refer back to in years to come but they are purely due to my love for literature and nothing to do with the story/the characters.
Now to the parts that were problematic for me.
I cannot comment or discuss the parts I didn’t enjoy/like without spoiling the book for you so the rest of the content will be a complete spoilery rant. So, please click here to go to the conclusion if you don’t want to read any spoilery content.
👎 Pain points
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This book was full of contradictions. On the one hand, Janina asks “Who are we to judge anybody, doesn’t everybody deserve a right to live?” and at the same time goes ahead and murders people who in all respects are contributing members of society with their own families. While she has a problem with killing animals, rightly so, how does she not feel any guilt when she brutally murders humans, beings of her kind? Doesn’t make any sense at all.
Were the hunters evil? Yes. Was the system was corrupt? Yes.
Did somebody bother to speak up against the rampant poaching and killing of the innocent animals? No.
Now my pertinent question: Do the above reasons justify the murder of 4 people?
Another question: What kind of message did the protagonist send by murdering the villains? That hunting is bad? that she was an insane murderous old woman? or that anybody can murder anybody as long as the reason is justifiable?
What kind of anarchy will that be then? If everybody can get away with murders what kind of world would that be? Doesn’t everybody suffer from loss? from injustice? from the unfairness of it all? So should everybody start murdering people they don’t like?
2. Personal revenge hidden as revenge on behalf of the animals
This was my pet peeve with this book. Our protagonist has been living in that village for quite a long time, the animal killings have been going on for a long time and yes, she’s been writing letters against the killings. But, it’s only after she realizes that her own dogs were killed that she thirsts for “real justice”. Can you believe that? Personal revenge masquerading as animal justice? I was quite uncomfortable with that. Nope, I don’t condone murder as a way to get justice for your murdered dogs. Nope, that just doesn’t sit well with me.
When I ranted to my husband he said: “Some people treat their dogs as their family members, it must have hurt her terribly“, also “What else could she have done?“
True, as I said she was thirsting for revenge and there was nothing else she could have done. The entire society, police force was mutely watching the atrocities.
I agree, but my only point is: Let this be a revenge story, let it not be romanticized as a justice story. Because if we do that, then it means we condone murder whatever the reasons are and that’s a very thin and dangerous line to cross.
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I loved the process of reading this book. It was a wonderful piece of literature. I detested the ending. Expected a horror/mystery suspense thriller but got a piece of literary fiction. I enjoyed the astrological references. Overall a book that’ll make you think. A book that shows a grey world not a black and white one. A book that will be discussed for many years to come.
Review, recommendation, and rating
Not many books tell stories from the perspective of old people. We need more books about old people. Their troubles, their thoughts, and their life. I adored that aspect of this book. Read this book to get a glimpse into the mind of a very just, albeit troubled mind of an old woman who loves animals more than she loves beings from her kind. This book is not for everybody though, be warned.
So that’s the review from my end friends. Next week I am participating in The Reading Rush readathon. I am planning to write a blog on the same. Wish me luck. Till then stay safe, stay healthy. Om Shanthi.