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Olga Tokarczuk ([tɔˈkart͡ʂuk]; born 29 January 1962) is a Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual[1] who has been described as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation.[2][3] In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights (translated by Jennifer Croft), becoming the first Polish writer to do so.[1]

Olga Tokarczuk
Olga Tokarczuk (2018).jpg
Olga Tokarczuk, 2018
Born (1962-01-29) 29 January 1962 (age 57)
OccupationWriter, essayist, poet, screenwriter, psychologist
Notable work
The Books of Jacob
Primeval and Other Times
AwardsNike Award (2008, 2015)
Vilenica Prize (2013)
Brückepreis (2015)
The Man Booker International Prize (2018)
Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (2018)
Prix Laure Bataillon (2019)

Tokarczuk is particularly noted for the mythical tone of her writing. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw and published a collection of poems, several novels, as well as other books with shorter prose works. Flights won the Nike Award, Poland's top literary prize, in 2008. She attended the 2010 Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her book Primeval and Other Times and other work. With her novel Księgi jakubowe (The Books of Jacob), Tokarczuk won the Nike Award again in 2015. In the same year, Tokarczuk received 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.[4][5][6]


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.[7] 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 has leftist convictions.[8]

Published workEdit

Olga Tokarczuk, Kraków, Poland, 2005

Tokarczuk's first book was published in 1989, a collection of poems entitled Miasta w lustrach ("Cities in Mirrors").[7] 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, was published in 1993.

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 at that time 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. Prawiek... was translated into many languages (published in English in Antonia Lloyd-Jones' translation by Twisted Spoon Press in 2009) 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.

Tokarczuk and Agnieszka Holland, 2017

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 ("Flights") 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 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.

Olga Tokarczuk, Berlinale 2017

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 2010, she received the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis.[9] In 2013 Tokarczuk was awarded the Vilenica Prize.

In 2014 Tokarczuk published an epic novel Księgi jakubowe ("The Books of Jacob" in Jennifer Croft's provisional translation). 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.[10][11]

In 2017, her novel Prowadź swój płóg przez kości umarłych ("Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead") was the basis of the crime film Spoor directed by Agnieszka Holland, which won the Alfred Bauer Prize (Silver Bear) at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.[12]


Olga Tokarczuk at the Góry Literatury Festival in Nowa Ruda, 2017

Olga Tokarczuk is the recipient of the 2015 Brückepreis, 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.[6][13][14][15][16]

In 2018 she became the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize for Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft.[17]

Tokarczuk also won the Kulturhuset International Literary Prize in Stockholm for her 2015 work The Books of Jacob, which has been translated into Swedish.[18]

In 2019, Olga Tokarczuk's The Books of Jacob translated by Maryla Laurent won Prix Laure Bataillon Award for the best foreign-language book translated into French in the last year.[19]

In 2019 her novel Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.[20]


Tokarczuk was attacked by the Nowa Ruda Patriots association, who demanded that the town's council revoke the writer's honorary citizenship of Nowa Ruda because, as the association claimed, she had tarnished the 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". 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.[15][21][22]


  • 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". Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. 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. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Granta, ISBN 1-86207-514-X; Northwestern University Press, ISBN 978-0-8101-1892-8)
  • 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. ("Flights". Translated by Jennifer Croft. Fitzcarraldo, ISBN 978-1-9106-9543-2).
  • 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").
  • 2018: Opowiadania Bizarne. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. (Bizarre Stories).[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Olga Tokarczuk's 'extraordinary' Flights wins Man Booker International prize". The Guardian. 22 May 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  2. ^ Rzeczpospolita. "List of Polish bestsellers 2009". Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  3. ^ Gazeta Wyborcza. "Tokarczuk wins NIKE prize for Bieguni (Flights)". Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Zgorzelec – The Neighbor". Welcome to Goerlitz/Zgorzelec. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 20 December 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  5. ^ "Nagroda Mostu [The Bridge Prize]". Zgorzelec oficjalny serwis miasta. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Międzynarodowa Nagroda Mostu dla Olgi Tokarczuk [The International Bridge Prize for Olga Tokarczuk]". Wydawnictwo Literackie. 6 December 2015.
  7. ^ a b Wiacek, Elzbieta (2009). "The Works of Olga Tokarczuk: Postmodern aesthetics, myths, archetypes, and the feminist touch" (PDF). Poland Under Feminist Eyes (1): 134–155. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Gloria Artis dla Olgi Tokarczuk". Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  10. ^ Milena Rachid Chehab (4 October 2015). "Nagroda Nike 2015 dla Olgi Tokarczuk. Księgi Jakubowe książką roku! [Nike Award 2015 for Olga Tokarczuk. The Books of Jacob a Book of the Year!]". Gazeta Wyborcza.
  11. ^ Mariusz Jałoszewski (15 October 2015). "Internetowy lincz na Oldze Tokarczuk. Zabić pisarkę [Internet lynch on Olga Tokarczuk. Kill the writer]". Gazeta Wyborcza.
  12. ^ "Prizes of the International Jury". Berlinale. 18 February 2017. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  13. ^ "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.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ a b 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.
  16. ^ "Nagroda Mostu dla Olgi Tokarczuk [The Bridge Prize for Olga Tokarczuk]". ZINFO. 3 December 2015.
  17. ^ Codrea-Rado, Anna (22 May 2018). "Olga Tokarczuk of Poland Wins Man Booker International Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Kulturhuset Stadsteaterns första internationella litteraturpris tilldelas romanen Jakobsböckerna". Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  19. ^ "Prestigious award for Olga Tokarczuk and her translator into French". Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  20. ^ Marshall, Alex (9 April 2019). "Women Dominate Shortlist for Booker International Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Przemysław Czapliński (15 October 2015). "Czapliński: list otwarty do senatora Waldemara Bonkowskiego [Czapliński: an open letter to Senator Waldemar Bonkowski]". Krytyka Polityczna.
  23. ^ Literackie, Wydawnictwo. "Opowiadania bizarne". Retrieved 4 September 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Ruth Franklin, "Past Master: An experimental novelist and the battle for Poland's national narrative", The New Yorker, 5 & 12 August 2019, pp. 20–26. "Her role, as she sees it, is to force her readers to examine aspects of history – their own or their nation's – that they would rather avoid. She has become, she says, a 'psychotherapist of the past.'" (p. 26.)

External linksEdit