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Primeval And Other Times
Olga Tokarczuk Published by: Twisted Spoon Press, 2011 Strony / Pages: 248, soft cover ISBN: 978-80-86264-35-6
Online price: $15.95
translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Tokarczuk's third novel, Primeval and Other Times was awarded the Koscielski Foundation Prize in 1997, which established the author as one of the leading voices in Polish letters. It is set in the mythical Polish village of Primeval, which is populated by eccentric, archetypal characters. The village, a microcosm of Europe and the world, is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Primeval's inhabitants over the course of the feral 20th century. In prose that is forceful and direct, the narrative follows Poland's tortured political history from 1914 to the contemporary era and the episodic brutality that is visited on ordinary village life. Yet Primeval and Other Times is a novel of universal dimension that does not dwell on the parochial. A stylized fable as well as epic allegory about the inexorable grind of time, the clash between modernity (the masculine) and nature (the feminine), it has been translated into most European languages.

Tokarczuk has said of the novel: "I always wanted to write a book such as this. One that creates and describes a world. It is the story of a world that, like all things living, is born, develops, and then dies." Kitchens, bedrooms, childhood memories, dreams and insomnia, reminiscences, and amnesia — these are part of the existential and acoustic spaces from which the voices of Tokarczuk's tale come, her "boxes in boxes."

Tokarczuk explores shared experience in emotional and literal terms. In the course of the novel grass bleeds, a woman experiences touch vicariously, a house has a soul, clothes have memory, mushrooms are described as possessing time, and animals dream in images. One could certainly argue that these constructs are merely figurative personifications or the conventions of magical realism, but Tokarczuk's insistence on connecting the experiences of flora, fauna, and even inanimate objects to the human experience, never privileging one over the other, indicates a desire to unify all experience in a way vital to the novel's themes. These constructs are inherently empathetic. Tokarczuk ultimately argues that sharing experience among all worldly things is a prerequisite for living. In fact, if we cannot know the nature of God or if he is an illusion or may have taken leave from us, we are left with our attachments, physical and emotional, to this world. Primeval shows us that in the past century's turbulence experience itself may be the only means left for us to share with others, and the only trace we leave in the world.
— Chad Heltzel, The Sarmatian Review
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