‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk – Astrology and the Plight of the Animals

‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk (2009) – 274 pages                                                      Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones


I decided to re-post this article on this day since Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature today.

‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ begins with alarming but fascinating stark intensity:

We left the house and were instantly engulfed by the familiar cold, wet air that reminds us every winter that the world was not created for Mankind, and for at least half the year it shows us how very hostile it is to us. The frost brutally assailed our cheeks, and clouds of white steam came streaming from our mouths.”

The old woman who lives in a rural forest area, Janina Duszejko, and her neighbor Oddball find the newly dead body of their other neighbor Bigfoot lying on his kitchen floor. He appears to have choked to death on the bone of a deer. Nearly everyone here has a nickname. The old woman’s reaction is severe:

I disliked him. To say I disliked him might be putting it too mildly. Instead I should say I found him repulsive, horrible. In fact I didn’t even regard him as a human Being. Now he was lying on the stained floor in his dirty underwear, small and skinny, limp and harmless…for someone as foul as he was did not deserve death. Who on earth does?”

I can think of no other novel in which the main character’s reaction to events is so fierce and sharp.

The old woman has two strong beliefs. One is a belief in astrology. There is much talk of which planet or moon is ascendant or in opposition. I usually avoid like the plague books that go too heavily into astrology, but I am happy I stuck with this one.

Her second belief is a love of and a passion for justice for animals. She absolutely detests the killing of animals, especially by hunters. Here is her justification:

“They were more human than people in every possible way. More affectionate, wiser, more joyful… And people think they can do whatever they want to Animals, as if they are just things. I think my dogs were shot by the hunters.”

She becomes livid when she finds the hunters near her home have set up salt licks to attract deer.

And when the Animals come to feed, they shoot at them. It’s like inviting someone to dinner and murdering them.”

She is fanatic about all animals, even the lowliest:

It occurred to me that every unjustly inflicted death deserved public exposure. Even an Insect’s. A death that nobody noticed was twice as scandalous.”

When the old woman reports cases of animal cruelty to the authorities, they see her as “a tedious madwoman who is hopeless at everything, pathetic and laughable”. However in her younger days, she worked as a bridge construction engineer and then a grade school teacher.

At one point the irate old woman tells us of the value of anger:

“Sometimes when a Person feels Anger, everything seems simple and obvious. Anger puts things in order and shows you the world in a nutshell. Anger restores the gift of Clarity of Vision, which is hard to attain in any other state.”

All I can say is that despite the old woman’s beliefs in things I don’t necessarily agree with, she states her views in such a clear straightforward fashion that she won me over as a fictional character.

‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ is a powerful passionate intense novel, and I strongly recommend it.


Grade:    A


8 responses to this post.

  1. LOL I made vague promises to read this when you posted it before, I guess I’ll have to wait a long time for a reserve copy at the library now.
    But gosh, what were they thinking when they chose an apologist for Slobodan Milosevic as the other winner??!!



    • Hi Lisa,
      I know that up until the time he became an apologist for Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, Peter Handke was well-respected in the literary world.
      I thought the novel by Celine called ‘Jouney to the End of the Night’ was excellent even though he was a Nazi supporter and anti-Semitic. Another Nazi sympathizer was Knut Hamsun who wrote ‘Hunger’ and other famous works.



  2. I have this and Flights waiting tbr.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. thanks for the review. Up until now, I’ve avoided her. I can’t cope with grim literature – but I may give this a whirl, provided its in the Library system. Good to see a woman winning the Nobel for Lit. About time !

    Liked by 1 person


  4. I loved Flights, and wasn’t at all surprised based on that when she won prizes (not that I rate the Nobel at all, but still). I have this and while similarly I wouldn’t be keen on an astrology-related book I think as for you this has to be an exception. Such a good writer.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Max,
      For me, the Nobel Prize for Literature reached its low point in 1997 when they picked Italian playwright Dario Fo. I tried to read one of his translated plays but only got through a few pages before giving up. But most of the award winners have been pretty reasonable.
      I wish I read ‘Flights’ when it came out but I was busy reading lesser stuff. 🙂
      For some strange reason, the astrology in ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ wasn’t as bothersome as it usually is.



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