Abstract

In Księgi Jakubowe [The Books of Jacob], a fictionalized account of the eighteenth-century religious leader Jacob Frank and his followers, Olga Tokarczuk crafts a narrative that privileges the diverse and often nonconvergent perspectives of characters caught up in historical events that they do not fully understand. Likewise, in Bieguni [Flights], Tokarczuk allows the diverse narratives making up this “constellation novel” to unfold under the autonomy of their protagonists. Allowing for the coexistence of narrative elements that clash is a special case of an overall literary strategy that can be found throughout Tokarczuk’s work: conflicting ideas deliberately juxtaposed to elicit philosophical and existential questions. This implies that the process of interpreting a sprawling work such as The Books of Jacob cannot succeed under the assumption that one is encountering a clearly defined reality with a fixed essence. Rather, one must approach the task of interpretation in a piecemeal fashion, such that gradually a picture of Frank, his followers, and his time emerges. This picture captures Poland and the rest of East Central Europe on the cusp of modernity.

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