by Olga Tokarczuk
translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft
from the September 20, 2021 issue of The New Yorker
Olga Tokarczuk may be the author I’m most excited to read having never read one of her books. I think Flights and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead sound fascinating, and I’m very excited that early next year Riverhead is publishing her massive The Books of Jacob. I will get to her soon, I hope! Indeed, this story is a chance to get a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to The Books of Jacob since it is an excerpt. In her interview with Deborah Treisman Tokarczuk recognizes that maybe an excerpt is no substitute for the novel itself:
It’s hard for me to talk about Yente, one character in a novel like “The Books of Jacob” that’s made up of so many threads, as though she were extricable from every other thread. Yente does play a unique role in the book because she’s a strange and powerful narrator who—thanks to her exceptional state—can time-travel and has a panoptic view of the world presented in the book.
Oh, wait. Did she say that Yente can time-travel? Is that a term of art for her role as a narrator or can Yente really time-travel? I am excited to find out! This opening paragraph makes me all the more excited:
Asher Rubin goes in through the dark, muddy courtyard of Elisha’s house, where just-slaughtered geese, fattened all summer long, hang upside down. He walks through a narrow entryway and smells the fried cutlets and onions, hears someone somewhere grinding pepper in a mortar. The women are noisy in the kitchen; the cold air is pierced by the steam that comes from there, from the dishes they’re preparing. There are the smells of vinegar, nutmeg, bay leaves; there is the aroma of fresh meat, sweet and sickening. These scents make the autumn air seem even colder and more unpleasant.
So, do you plan to read The Books of Jacob when it comes out? Did you enjoy this piece of the much larger book? Let me know below!