Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is the arresting if the not jolly title of Olga Tokarczuk’s novel about an old woman. Janina Duszejko lives alone remotely in woods in rural Poland. She used to live with two dogs but they disappeared. She suspects local hunters shot them. This is where the narrative begins and where it ends. I’m not going to say anything about more about the plot as I highly recommend this novel to you. From the first page, I came to inhabit Duszejko’s heart and mind, her thoughts and feelings. She reminded me of many animal rights friends and colleagues, including myself; but particularly of Kate Ward, the old lady who rescued dogs in the English town, Camberley, where I was born and raised. “Camberley Kate,” as she was known, invoked fear in my childhood self but she also planted a seed of compassion and curiosity. Why did she live her life rescuing so many dogs? I’m sure Duszejko would have inspired similar feelings in me to those of Camberley Kate if I had known her as a young boy; however, she’s popular with the children she teaches. (You can learn more about Camberley Kate from my memoir, Growl, published by Lantern Books.) Both women didn’t care what other people thought about them and how they cared for animals, birds, and nature. I loved spending my time with Duszejko and thankful for Tokarczuk for creating such a magnificent character whose presence stays with me long afterward.
It’s now some 15 months since I first published this review. I have just completed reading Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead for the second time. My love for this book has grown but my understanding as to why is no clearer than my first review. This mystery makes the book even more appealing. What is more apparent, however, is my appreciation of the author’s writing. I had forgotten how, now and then, Tokarczuk took me on a diversion that took my breath away. For example:
I spent ages pondering what the Grey Lady had said. And I think it tallies with one of my Theories–my belief that the human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth. To prevent us from catching sight of the mechanism. The psyche is our defence system–it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering.
This is one of many reasons why you should read this fascinating novel.