Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk

Janina Duszejko is very happy with her existence in a remote village in Polish-Czech border. Well, mostly. She likes the solitude and closeness to nature. She loves the wildlife all around her. The problem is that no one else seems to respect the wild the way that she does. There are rumors that the quarry will be started up again. There are hunters and poachers who kill out of season and kill more than they need. Also, she doesn’t know what happened to her beloved dogs. In Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk and perfectly translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, all of the things in Duszejko’s life come to a head one winter when she is summoned to the cabin of a loathsome neighbor, only to find that he has died suddenly.

The village where Duszejko and her neighbors live is the perfect place for people who don’t quite fit in. Duszejko likes that she can work on her star charts (she is a committed astrologer) and help her friend, Dizzy, translate William Blake’s poetry into Polish. Her neighbor, Oddball, liked being left on his own. Her other neighbor, the now deceased Big Foot, likes that he can do what he wants without the law interfering. Duszejko wishes there was a bit more legal oversight. She’s endlessly frustrated by the poaching and having her concerns dismissed by the police. No one seems to care about all the deer, pheasants, and other animals that are being killed by the hunters.

After Big Foot dies, other members of the hunting group start turning up dead. One of them is found in a well, surrounded by deer prints. Another is caught in his own snare. Duszejko develops a theory that the animals are taking revenge for their killed relatives. It’s the only thing that makes sense to her—but then she also thinks that the position of the planets affects human behavior. It’s almost more fun following Duszekjo’s astrological and intellectual thoughts than it is trying to figure out who who or what is killing the hunters. She is firmly convinced of her own logic, even though it’s pinned on the whirling planets above.

I didn’t get what I was expecting from Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Because this is a book by an award-winning writer from Poland, I was expecting historical grimness or something that was so experimental that I would have to reread lines to parse their meaning. (I haven’t read Tokarczuk before, but I have read other award-winning eastern and central European authors.) Instead, I got something much more readable, even funny at times. I would recommend this to readers who like off-beat, surprising, and original mysteries with great atmosphere. I really enjoyed this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

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