Books by Polish Writers: Szukalski and Tokarczuk

Books by Polish Writers: Szukalski and Tokarczuk

I recently finished two books by Polish authors. One is an art book by a creative ‘genius’, unrecognized as such, on his theories, sketches and sculptures about Zermatism. The other book is by a celebrated author that is currently having a moment. The authors being Polish seems to be the only thing these two books have in common, though they both seem to be eccentric.

Behold!!! the Protong by Stanislav Szukalski

How to describe this book? Szukalski’s theories are way, way out there. Some of them are borderline racist. You can still see the genius in his work though. For this book to be better appreciated, I would suggest you watch the Netflix documentary on the man, Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski.

The book is large format with large beautiful illustrations. The book is about Zermatism, which is his own theory of world history. He uses art from all over the world, from different civilizations, to put together his unified theory of the Deluge (huge flood), and subsequent scattering of the people all over the world. He decodes the names of everything using Protong, his own interpretation of the words using Polish pronunciation. As I type this out, I realize how crazy this all sounds.

Whether you read this book or not, you have to check out the documentary. His art is some of the most surreal, and interesting stuff I’ve seen in my life. He blends symbols from many cultures, and adds his own political ideas in there in such a unique way, that it’s difficult to describe.

I really wish it had more pictures! I now must seek out his other picture books which seem to be really quite rare and out of print.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #67 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Without a doubt Anger is the source of all wisdom, for Anger has the power to exceed any limits.

Olga Tokarczuk is one of hottest Polish authors at the moment. Her book Flights won the 2018 Man Booker International prize and Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize.

Children are soft and supple, open-minded and unpretentious. And they don’t engage in the sort of small talk in which every adult is able to gabble their life away. Unfortunately, the older they are, the more they succumb to the power of reason;

In this meandering story, we follow the life of an eccentric, old woman who lives in the mountains of Poland, close the the Czech border. She’s deeply into astrology and is a defender of all animals. This book is short on plot but contains beautiful prose about the woman, her philosophy, and her life. There are some mysterious murders that begin to occur around where the woman lives. This book follows the murders and how this old woman lives her life in the mountains.

We live in a state of siege. If one takes a close look at each fragment of a moment, one might choke with terror. Within our bodies disintegration inexorably advances; soon we shall fall sick and die. Our loved ones will leave us, the memory of them will dissolve in the tumult; nothing will remain. Just a few clothes in the wardrobe and someone in a photograph, no longer recognized.

The old woman has some poignant and funny diatribes on aging, and sickness.

Being healthy is an insecure state and does not bode well. It’s better to be ill in a quiet way, then at least we know what we’re going to die of.

This old woman is thought of as crazy by most of the people living near her but she doesn’t care one bit.

But why should we have to be useful and for what reason? Who divided the world into useless and useful, and by what right? Does a thistle have no right to life, or a Mouse that eats the grain in a warehouse? What about Bees and Drones, weeds and roses? Whose intellect can have had the audacity to judge who is better, and who worse?

I loved this book very much. If you read Flights, and didn’t like the stories jumping all over the place but enjoyed Ms. Tokarczuk’s style, you should try this book instead. This is one linear narrative that is much easier to follow.

We are all subject to Error: Who shall say that we are not all subject to Crime?

I hope these quotes I’ve included give you a sense of Ms. Tokarczuk’s style. She is quite a great writer! I love discovering new authors by following the Man Booker International prize. I suggest we all step out of our comfort zone a bit and read some more translated fiction!

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #68 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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