‘To me, Tokarczuk is one of the most important literary voices of Europe. She is breaking through internationally and she deserves more attention in Flanders and the Netherlands. Tokarczuk has written a very idiosyncratic oeuvre. She dares to tackle controversial subjects and does so without shocking. She really digs deep in her work, she writes metaphysical books.’ So wrote Alicja Gescinska about her countrywoman Olga Tokarczuk in De Tijd. We were only too glad to respond to Gescinska’s appeal and invited both writers in for a conversation.
The Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has twice won the Nike Prize, the leading literary prize of Poland. She counts Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksijevitsj and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx among her fans, and in 2018 she won the Man Booker International Prize. At Passa Porta she will talk to Alicja Gescinska about her major novels Flights and The Books of Jacob.
Connecting reflections on travel in the twenty-first century to digressions on the human anatomy: is that an impossible starting point for a novel? Tokarczuk thought differently about it. In her ambitious novel Flights, she collects stories of travellers. Travelling becomes a way to meet spiritual needs and to keep one’s own restlessness under control. A detail: one of the stories in the book is that of the seventeenth-century Flemish surgeon Philip Verheyen.
The Books of Jacob
With The Books of Jacob, Tokarczuk stretches the limits of the novel even more. In this monumental epic about the eighteenth-century Polish-Jewish mystic and religious leader Jacob Frank, she touches on themes such as – take a deep breath – love, friendship, death, sex, religion, science, geopolitical relations, transcendence, language, alchemy, Kabbalah and the truth.
Tokarczuk’s novel about religion and religious mania questions the current idealized perspective on the Polish past. Besides acclaim and a new Nike Prize, The Books of Jacob also earned Tokarczuk a hate campaign and even threats from nationalist circles.
Olga Tokarczuk (b. 1962) is one of the most important Polish authors of our age. She studied psychology, had her own practice and worked for a long time with delinquent youths. Tokarczuk has published nine novels and three collections of stories. Her work has been rewarded internationally and been translated into more than 30 languages.
Alicja Gescinska (b. 1981) is a writer, philosopher and TV maker. In 1988 her parents fled communist Poland to build a new life in Belgium. Gescinska obtained a PhD in philosophy from Ghent University and has worked at Princeton University and Amherst College. In 2017 she won the Debuutprijs for her novel Een soort van liefde. For the Canvas show Wanderlust, Gescinska travelled the world during two seasons for conversations with contemporary thinkers, artists and writers.
Olga Tokarczuk will sign her books after the programme (at 17:30) at the Beursschouwburg. Books will be available for sale at the signing.
Passa Porta, De Geus, L&M Books, Polish Institute, Beursschouwburg