Janina Duszejko, the narrator of Olga Tokarczuk’s newly translated Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (first published in Poland in 2009), lives in the remote Polish mountain hamlet of Luftzug. An English teacher and ‘guardian’ of her neighbours’ properties while they are empty over the winter months, she suffers from a variety of ‘Ailments’, appears to be ‘more concerned about the fate of animals than people’ and spends her spare time calculating horoscopes, having gathered together ‘1042 dates of birth and 999 dates of death’.
The novel opens on a wintry night when Janina is woken by Oddball to find that Big Foot has died (these names, like the capitalisation of certain words, are characteristic of the quirky, almost fairytale-like narration). On first inspection, Big Foot, a notorious poacher, seems to have died of natural causes, choking on a bone. When further deaths among a group of hunters follow, however, a new proposition is put forward: murder. Each death is accompanied by strange animal sightings and the discovery of traces of a non-human presence. It doesn’t take long for Janina to begin her own investigation and conclude that ‘it’s Animals taking revenge on people’.
With this, what begins by resembling a fairly straightforward crime novel takes on a surreal dimension (think lifelike dreams of dead mothers in the boiler room and possible killer deer), eventually unfolding into a patchwork of philosophical discussions, magic realism and noir elements populated by a colourful cast ripe for