Finally available in English, Olga Tokarczuk’s kaleidoscopic magnus opus about charismatic Jewish eighteenth-century mystic Jacob Frank and an Eastern Europe swept by new ideas is stunningly translated by Jennifer Croft.
Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022
In the mid-eighteenth century, as new ideas begin to sweep the continent, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Before long, he has changed not only his name but his persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following.
In the decade to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, throngs of disciples in his thrall as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumours of his sect's secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs.
In The Books of Jacob, her masterpiece, 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk writes the story of Frank through the perspectives of his contemporaries, capturing Enlightenment Europe on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence.
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Number of pages: 928
Dimensions: 230 x 140 mm
'A magnificent writer.' - Svetlana Alexievich, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate
'A writer on the level of W. G. Sebald.' - Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News
'[A] visionary novel... Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes: the purpose of life on earth, the nature of religion, the possibility of redemption, the fraught and terrible history of eastern European Jewry. With its formidable insistence on rendering an alien world with as much detail as possible, the novel reminded me at times of Paradise Lost. The vividness with which it's done is amazing. At a micro-level, she sees things with a poetic freshness... The Books of Jacob, which is so demanding and yet has so much to say about the issues that rack our times, will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it.' - Marcel Theroux, Guardian
'Tokarczuk shows impressive skill in recreating an entire era and world, which ranges from Poland to Smyrna and Vienna. Yet her real genius lies in the cast of characters she has conjured up; dozens, each fully realised, from an emperor downwards... She is also ambitious in her willingness to ask (and sometimes answer) extraordinarily large questions through these character studies... Holding it all together for 900 pages is incredible, but that is not what makes this book great. Tokarczuk, unafraid and ambitious, creates a very fallible messiah, yet makes it seem reasonable and human to believe in his divinity. That is a kind of literary miracle.' - Antonia Senior, The Times
'In Tokarczuk's telling this epic of myth and history is a celebration of cultural diversity, a plea for tolerance and - notwithstanding its impeccably researched historical setting - a contemporary story of borders, refugees and migration. Despite the novel's great length, the world she has recreated is wrenching to leave... Huge credit must be given to Croft, whose magnificent, lively translation is also a work of pure scholarship: the multiple voices, styles, landscapes and inventories she renders into English bring this lost world vividly to life... As a reading experience, aspects of Tolstoy's War and Peace are an obvious comparison; but so too is The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald's epic in miniature of German Romanticism, and Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy: all immersive works in which the act of turning the pages is akin to surrender.' - Catherine Taylor, Prospect
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“A historical epic, and so much more.”
Jennifer Croft has been working on this long-awaited translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s epic historical novel for several years, and the result is well worth the wait. To quote from the citation from the Nobel Committee... More
I didn't want this to end. I would have read another 900 pages. Extraordinary, extravagant and utterly peerless this year.
“Incredibly detailed and poignant”
While the page count is overwhelming and I carried around this brick of a book every day for weeks, when I got to the end I did think to myself, wow this really is an epic. It is just so impressive. The amount of... More
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