Vagabond book reviews

Primeval and Other Times

by Olga Tokarczuk
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Primeval and Other Times cover

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? This book was an experience even before I opened it. I love books that look like they were printed exclusively for me…A thick and tactile card stock, beautiful typography that feels freshly pressed with good quality ink.

Opening the book was like finding a time-worn matryoshka doll at an antique shop on Krakow’s back streets, where I might be greeted with a cup of tea and a half-blind cat. Olga Takorczuk has created a multi-layered, imperfect, brutal and whimsical world to take apart and put together again. There is so much beauty within: fermenting apples in the basement, the steam of boiled potatoes fogging up the windows, and a pantheon of slovenly Slavic gods who take their time to attend the political, natural, and supernatural needs of the inhabitants of Primeval.

A Polityka Passport Prize winner, this book is a multiple entry visa to places you have visited in Poland, or your dreams.

– CHZ

While Boski was busy building he house, Stasia had more peace. By noon she had to feed the animals, and then she got down to making the dinner. First she went to the field, and from the sandy earth she dug up some potatoes. She dreamed she might find treasure under the bushes, jewels wrapped in a rag or a tin full of dollars. Later on as she peeled the small potatoes, she would imagine she was a healer, the potatoes were the sick people who had come to her, and she was removing their illness and cleansing their bodies of all foul matter. Then as she tossed the peeled potatoes into the boiling water she would imagine she was brewing an elixer of beauty, and as soon as she drank it, her life would change once and for all. Some doctor or lawyer from Kielce would see her on the Highway, shower her in gifts and fall in love with her like a princess.

That’s why making dinner took so long.

– from Primeval and Other times

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