Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

I am very late to the party that is this book. A friend passed it on to me and it has sat in my TBR pile for some time. However, this week I decided that I wouldn’t go to the library for any more books but would read the 28 that are sitting on the table waiting!

Janina (don’t call her that ) Duszejko lives in a hamlet on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic in a place with six month winters full of snow and empty of people. Her beloved dogs have disappeared and she is bereft. And then one of her neighbours, Big Foot, is found dead outside from what turns out to be choking on a deer bone. Duszejko reads this as the animal getting its revenge on a hunter and this sets of a chain of events in a book that is part a crime story, part fable and part who knows what.

Duszejko has a habit of naming people after features and that made me fall in love with her because we do that too, particularly for people we pass walking every morning but who we don’t know the names for. We have Gardening Gloves, because that is what his gloves look like, High Blood Pressure – no explanation needed here and many more. Goodness only knows what people call us. In the book we have Oddball and she calls the priest Father Rustle

It always seemed to me that as he moved, his dry, bony body, covered in baggy, dark skin, rustled slightly. His cassock brushed against his trousers, his chin against his dog collar, and his joints creaked. What sort of creature of God was he, this priest? He had dry, wrinkled skin, and there was a little too much of it everywhere. Apparently he used to be obese, but he’d been cured of it surgically, by letting them remove half of his stomach. And now he’d grown very thin, perhaps that was why. I couldn’t help thinking he was entirely made of rice paper, the kind that’s used to make lampshades. To me he was like an artificial creature, hollow on the inside, and flammable too.


The flammable part is important at the end but what a description of someone. Ouch!

The book is an ode to vegetarianism with Duszejko anti-hunting and showing up all over the place like a mad woman who everyone ignores. Always dangerous. She is a fan of Astrology and believes that everything is predestined and therefore we should get used to the prison we live in. The setting being a rural area, of course hunting is an important part of the society with men being a little gung-ho with their guns and then taking photos of themselves and their kill afterwards, including the priest. And it is the hunters who are beng killed off one by one with Duszejko trying to convince the police and others that animals are doing it to take revenge. The book does address the debate about whether humans are higher in the order than animals and considers animal rights. If animals have rights, do they also have responsibilities?

There is also quite a lot in the book about what it means to be free – whether we are free or just think we are.

We believe we are free, and that God will forgive us. Personally I think otherwise. Finally transformed into tiny quivering photons, each of our deeds will set off into Outer Space, where the planets will keep watching it like a film until the end of the world.


There is also a moment that could come right out of Ed Yong’s book An Immense World where he talks about the Umwelt of nature – that is the perceptions an animal has of its place. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t more out there, it’s just that it can’t perceive it. When Duszejko meets an entomologist he explains about pheremones and just because we can’t smell them, doesn’t mean that we don’t have them or the smell. To believe this that is just the pride of those without fee will.

In 2009 when a film was made of the book it was denounced in Poland as anti-Christian and agitating for eco-terrorism. Is it? Or is it arguing for freedom to think and live as you wish, which may go against traditions, something that might still be difficult to swallow in some institutions in Poland.

The book is also very funny in parts. Duszejko is researching dates of birth and death and their relationships under Astrology.

In all these years I have gathered 1042 dates of birth and 999 dates of death, and my minor research is still in progress. A project without funding from the European Union.


I loved the book.

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