*The Books of Jacob*

By Olga Tokarczuk, so far I am about 300 pp. through a total of nearly 900 pp.  Might this be one of the greater novels of our time?  I liked this description:

The Books of Jacob by the Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk is an epic chronicle of the life and times of Frank and his followers. Over a thousand pages long, dense with history and incident, it is vast enough to make this reader’s knees buckle. As crowded as a Bruegel painting, it moves from mud-bound Galician villages to Greek monasteries, 18th-century Warsaw, Brno, Vienna and the luxurious surroundings of the Habsburg court. It takes in esoteric theological arguments, diplomatic history, alchemy, Kabbalah, Polish antisemitism and the philosophical roots of the Enlightenment. It is a dauntingly ambitious piece of work and one of the responses it arouses is just plain amazement at the patience and tenacity that have gone into its construction.


Dense, captivating and weird, The Books of Jacob is on a different scale from either of these. It is a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece – long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable. Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes: the purpose of life on earth, the nature of religion, the possibility of redemption, the fraught and terrible history of eastern European Jewry. With its formidable insistence on rendering an alien world with as much detail as possible, the novel reminded me at times of Paradise LostThe vividness with which it’s done is amazing.

Both passages by Marcel Theroux.  I still need to read more, but this stands a very good chance of being one of the must-read novels of the twenty-first century.  I ordered my copy pre-emptively from the UK and am very glad I did so, other Americans need to wait until February.


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