Olga Tokarczuk

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File:Olga Tokarczuk 2.jpg
Olga Tokarczuk, Kraków (Poland), 2005

Olga Tokarczuk ([tɔˈkart͡ʂuk]; born 29 January 1962) is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation,[1][2] particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. She has published a collection of poems, several novels, as well as other books with shorter prose works. Her book Bieguni ("Runners") won the Nike Award 2008. She attended the 2010 Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her book Primeval and Other Times and other work. For her new novel Księgi jakubowe ("Jacob's Scriptures"), Tokarczuk won the Nike Award again in 2015. Also in 2015 Tokarczuk became a recipient of the German-Polish International Bridge Prize, a recognition extended to persons especially accomplished in the promotion of peace, democratic development and mutual understanding among the people and nations of Europe.[3][4][5]


Tokarczuk was born in Sulechów near Zielona Góra, Poland. Before starting her literary career, from 1980 she trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. During her studies, she volunteered in an asylum for adolescents with behavioural problems.[6] After her graduation in 1985, she moved first to Wrocław and later to Wałbrzych, where she began practising as a therapist. Tokarczuk considers herself a disciple of Carl Jung and cites his psychology as an inspiration for her literary work. Since 1998, Tokarczuk has lived in a small village near Nowa Ruda, from where she also manages her private publishing company Ruta. She is a member of The Greens (Poland), a political party, and a person of leftist convictions.[7]

Published work

1989 saw the publication of Tokarczuk's first book, a collection of poems entitled Miasta w lustrach ("Cities in Mirrors").[6] Her debut novel, Podróż ludzi księgi ("The Journey of the Book-People"), a parable on two lovers' quest for the "secret of the Book" (a metaphor for the meaning of life) set in 17th century France, appeared in 1993 and gained her instant popularity with the audience and reviewers.

The follow-up novel E. E. (1996) took its title from the initials of its protagonist, a young woman named Erna Eltzner, who grows up in a bourgeois German-Polish family in Breslau (the German city that was to become the Polish Wrocław after World War II) in the 1920s, who develops psychic abilities.

Tokarczuk's third novel Prawiek i inne czasy ("Primeval and Other Times") was published in 1996 and became highly successful. It is set in the fictitious village of Prawiek (Primeval) at the very heart of Poland, which is populated by some eccentric, archetypical characters. The village is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Prawiek's inhabitants over a period of eight decades, beginning in 1914. Parallel to but strangely detached from Poland's meandering political history during this time, it describes the continuum of all human joys and pains, which Prawiek seems to contain as in a nutshell. Prawiek... was translated into many languages (published in English in 2009 by Twisted Spoon Press) and established Tokarczuk's international reputation as one of the most important representatives of Polish literature in her generation.

After Prawiek..., Tokarczuk's work began drifting away from the novel genre towards shorter prose texts and essays. Her next book Szafa ("The Wardrobe", 1997) was a collection of three novella-type stories. Dom dzienny, dom nocny ("House of Day, House of Night", 1998), although nominally a novel, is rather a patchwork of loosely connected disparate stories, sketches, and essays about life past and present in the author's adopted home since that year, a village in Krajanów in the Sudetes near the Polish-Czech border. Even though arguably Tokarczuk's most "difficult", at least for those unfamiliar with Central European history, it was her first book to be published in English.

House of Day, House of Night was followed by a collection of short stories – Gra na wielu bębenkach ("Playing on Many Drums", 2001) – as well as a non-fiction essay Lalka i perła ("The Doll and the Pearl", 2000), on the subject of Bolesław Prus' classic novel The Doll. She also published a volume with three modern Christmas tales, together with her fellow writers Jerzy Pilch and Andrzej Stasiuk (Opowieści wigilijne, 2000).

Ostatnie historie ("The Last Stories") of 2004 is an exploration of death from the perspectives of three generations, while the novel Anna in the Catacombs (2006) was a contribution to the Canongate Myth Series by Polish publisher Znak. Tokarczuk's book Bieguni ("Runners") returns to the patchwork approach of essay and fiction, the major theme of which is modern day nomads. It won both the reader prize and the jury prize of the 2008 Nike Award.

In 2009 the novel Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead was published. It is written in the convention of a detective story with the main character telling the story from her point of view. Janina Duszejko, an old and unattractive woman, eccentric in her perception of other humans through astrology, relates a series of deaths in a rural area near Kłodzko, Poland. She explains the deaths as caused by wild animals in vengeance on hunters. The novel poses questions about the responsibility of human beings towards nature and the dangers of them having a personal mythology.

Tokarczuk is the laureate of numerous literary awards both in and outside Poland. Besides the Nike Award, the most important Polish literary accolade, she won the audience award several times, Prawiek i inne czasy being the award's first recipient ever.

In 2013 Tokarczuk was awarded Vilenica Prize .

In 2014 Tokarczuk published an epic novel Księgi jakubowe ("Jacob's Scriptures"). The book earned her another Nike Award. Its historical setting is 18th century Poland and eastern-central Europe and it deals with an important episode in Jewish history. In regard to the historical and ideological divides of Polish literature, the book has been characterized as anti-Sienkiewicz. It was soon acclaimed by critics and readers alike, but its reception has been hostile in some Polish nationalistic circles and Olga Tokarczuk became a target of an internet hate and harassment campaign.[8][9]

International Bridge Prize

Olga Tokarczuk is the recipient of the 2015 International Bridge Prize, the 20th edition of the award granted by the "Europa-City Zgorzelec/Görlitz". The prize is a joint undertaking of the German and Polish border twin cities aimed at advancing mutual, regional and European peace, understanding and cooperation among people of different nationalities, cultures and viewpoints. Particularly appreciated by the jury was Tokarczuk's creation of literary bridges connecting people, generations and cultures, especially residents of the border territories of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, who have had often different existential and historical experiences. Also stressed was Tokarczuk's "rediscovery" and elucidation of the complex multinational and multicultural past of the Lower Silesia region, an area of great political conflicts. Attending the award ceremony in Görlitz, Tokarczuk was impressed by the positive and pragmatic attitude demonstrated by the mayor of the German town in regard to the current refugee and migrant crisis, which she contrasted with the ideological uproar surrounding the issue in Poland.[5][10][11][12][13]


Tokarczuk was attacked by the Nowa Ruda Patriots association, who demanded that the town's council revokes the writer's honorary citizenship of Nowa Ruda because, as the association claimed, she had tarnished a good name of the Polish nation. The association's postulate was supported by Senator Waldemar Bonkowski of the Law and Justice Party, according to whom Tokarczuk's literary output and public statements are in "absolute contradiction to the assumptions of the Polish historical politics" (which means producing official propaganda interpretations of historical events with a right wing nationalistic spin). Tokarczuk asserted that she is the true patriot, not the people and groups who harass her and whose xenophobic and racist attitudes and actions are harmful to Poland and to Poland's image abroad.[12][14][15]


  1. Rzeczpospolita. "List of Polish bestsellers 2009". Retrieved 18 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Gazeta Wyborcza. "Tokarczuk wins NIKE prize for Bieguni (Runners)". Retrieved 18 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Zgorzelec - The Neighbor". Welcome to Goerlitz/Zgorzelec. Retrieved 20 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Nagroda Mostu [The Bridge Prize]". Zgorzelec oficjalny serwis miasta. Retrieved 21 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Międzynarodowa Nagroda Mostu dla Olgi Tokarczuk [The International Bridge Prize for Olga Tokarczuk]". Wydawnictwo Literackie. 6 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wiacek, Elzbieta (2009). "The Works of Olga Tokarczuk: Postmodern aesthetics, myths, archetypes, and the feminist touch" (PDF). Poland Under Feminist Eyes (1): 134–155. Retrieved 2 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Dorota Wodecka (10 October 2015). "Olga Tokarczuk, laureatka Nike 2015: Ludzie, nie bójcie się! [Olga Tokarczuk, the laureate of Nike 2015: People, don't be afraid!]". Gazeta Wyborcza.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Milena Rachid Chehab (4 October 2015). "Nagroda Nike 2015 dla Olgi Tokarczuk. Księgi Jakubowe książką roku! [Nike Award 2015 for Olga Tokarczuk. Jacob's Scriptures a Book of the Year!]". Gazeta Wyborcza.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Mariusz Jałoszewski (15 October 2015). "Internetowy lincz na Oldze Tokarczuk. Zabić pisarkę [Internet lynch on Olga Tokarczuk. Kill the writer]". Gazeta Wyborcza.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Olga Tokarczuk laureatką Nagrody Mostu. Pisarka z serca Europy [Olga Tokarczuk won the Bridge Prize. A writer from the heart of Europe]". Gazeta Wyborcza. 20 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Olga Tokarczuk laureatką Międzynarodowej Nagrody Mostu Europa-Miasta Zgorzelec/Görlitz 2015 [Olga Tokarczuk is the laureate of the International Bridge Prize of Europa-City Zgorzelec/Görlitz 2015]". Zgorzelec oficjalny serwis miasta. Retrieved 21 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Magda Piekarska (10 December 2015). "Olga Tokarczuk: To ja jestem patriotką, a nie nacjonalista palący kukłę Żyda [I am a patriot, not the nationalist who burns an effigy of a Jew]". Gazeta Wyborcza.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Nagroda Mostu dla Olgi Tokarczuk [The Bridge Prize for Olga Tokarczuk]". ZINFO. 3 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Magda Piekarska (15 December 2015). "Nowa polityka historyczna wg PiS. Żądają odebrania Tokarczuk obywatelstwa Nowej Rudy [A new historical politics according to PiS. They demand that Nowa Ruda revokes Tokarczuk's citizenship ]". Gazeta Wyborcza.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Przemysław Czapliński (15 October 2015). "Czapliński: list otwarty do senatora Waldemara Bonkowskiego [Czapliński: an open letter to Senator Waldemar Bonkowski]". Krytyka Polityczna.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • 1989: Miasta w lustrach, Kłodzko: Okolice. ("Cities in Mirrors")
  • 1993: Podróż ludzi księgi. Warszawa: Przedświt. ("The Journey of the Book-People")
  • 1999: E. E. Warszawa: PIW.
  • 1996: Prawiek i inne czasy. Warszawa: W.A.B. ("Primeval and Other Times". Twisted Spoon Press ISBN 978-80-86264-35-6)
  • 1997: Szafa. Lublin: UMCS. ("The Wardrobe")
  • 1998: Dom dzienny, dom nocny. Wałbrzych: Ruta. (House of Day, House of Night. Granta. ISBN 1-86207-514-X)
  • 2000 (with Jerzy Pilch and Andrzej Stasiuk): Opowieści wigilijne. Wałbrzych: Ruta/Czarne ("Christmas Tales")
  • 2000: Lalka i perła. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("The Doll and the Pearl")
  • 2001: Gra na wielu bębenkach. Wałbrzych: Ruta. ("Playing on Many Drums")
  • 2004: Ostatnie historie. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("The Last Stories").
  • 2006: Anna w grobowcach świata. Kraków: Znak. ("Anna in the Tombs of the World").
  • 2007: Bieguni. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Runners").
  • 2009: Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead")
  • 2012: Moment niedźwiedzia. ("The Moment of the Bear").
  • 2014: Księgi Jakubowe. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ("Jacob's Scriptures").

External links