17 September 2014 Księgi Jakubowe (Jacob’s Books) by Olga Tokarczuk available in October

Year 1752. The castellan’s wife Katarzyna Kossakowska accompanied by the poet Elżbieta Drużbacka arrive at Rohatyn in Podolia. One of the guests at their welcome dinner is the local parish priest Benedykt Chmielowski, the author of the first Polish encyclopaedia. The priest and the poet, both enamoured of books, quickly find common ground – they start a conversation which will be continued in letters.

A while later, a young, handsome and charismatic Jew named Jacob Leibowitz Frank comes to Podolia. The mysterious newcomer from remote Smyrna begins to preach ideas that quickly introduce discord into the Jewish community. Considered a heretic by some and a saviour by others, he is soon surrounded by a circle of devoted disciples, and the unrest he fomented may change the course of history.

Almost a thousand pages, several dozen threads and characters – Księgi Jakubowe is an epically impressive novel, multifaceted and open to a wide range of interpretations. Olga Tokarczuk draws extensively on the tradition of historical novel, broadening the scope of this genre. She depicts the epoch with meticulous care, including architecture, costumes, scents. We visit estate manors, Catholic presbyteries and Jewish homes, engrossed in prayer and mysterious scriptures. Before the readers’ very eyes, the writer weaves an image of Poland in its former days, when Christianity, Judaism, as well as Islam, co-existed side by side.

Księgi Jakubowe is not merely a novel about the past. It can be read as a reflective and sometimes mystical text concerning history, its twists and turns that determine the fortunes of entire nations. In the mid-18th century, on the threshold of the Enlightenment and prior to the Partitions of Poland, this eminent author seeks answers to questions about the present shape of this part of Europe. All fans of the writer’s prose are invited to the meeting with Olga Tokarczuk, which will take place on 20 October at 5:30 pm. during the Conrad Festival. Come and join us!

The books are recommended by Wydawnictwo Literackie.