“Woman, Frog, and Devil”
by Olga Tokarczuk
translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
from the June 3, 2024 issue of The New Yorker

In September, Riverhead Books will be publishing Olga Tokarczuk’s The Empusium: A Health Resort Horror Story. Currently slated to be 320 pages, this will be much more digestible than the one that came a few years ago, the nearly 1000-page The Books of Jacob, which I managed to read and admire without loving. I still have Flights and Drive the Plow Over the Bones of the Dead to read, but I’m also excited for what we’re getting this fall.

This week’s story is an excerpt from The Empusium, and I have not yet decided whether to read it or just wait for the book itself to come out.

What about you? Are you planning to read The Empusium? Or will this excerpt help you make your decision if you’re on the fence? Or are you giving it all a pass for some reason (which I hope you’ll explain if you can).

Maybe the first few lines of the excerpt will help you (and me) decide?

January Wojnicz, a retired civil servant and a landowner, was a splendid man, as they said in Lwów, handsome and dignified. As a man of fifty-plus, he had dark hair with hardy any gray and thick stubble; he shaved with great tenacity, leaving only his magnificent mustache, which he cared for and curled with the use of pomade, the base ingredient of which was tallow. As a result, his son, Mieczys?aw, forever associated the smell of rancid fat with his father; it was his second, aromatic skin.

I kept reading and the second paragraph keeps the energy building as it describes this interesting January. I suppose I will end up reading this excerpt after all.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below!

Here is the blurb for the novel itself:

The Nobelist’s latest masterwork, set in a sanitarium on the eve of World War I, probes the horrors that lie beneath our most hallowed ideas

September 1913. A young Pole suffering from tuberculosis arrives at Wilhelm Opitz’s Guesthouse for Gentlemen in the village of Görbersdorf, a health resort in the Silesian mountains. Every evening the residents gather to imbibe the hallucinogenic local liqueur and debate the great issues of the day: Monarchy or democracy? Do devils exist? Are women born inferior? War or peace? Meanwhile, disturbing things are happening in the guesthouse and the surrounding hills. Someone—or something—seems to be watching, attempting to infiltrate this cloistered world. Little does the newcomer realize, as he tries to unravel both the truths within himself and the mystery of the sinister forces beyond, that they have already chosen their next target.

A century after the publication of The Magic Mountain, Olga Tokarczuk revisits Thomas Mann territory and lays claim to it, with signature boldness, inventiveness, humor, and bravura.

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