"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." (source)
A Comet Foretells the Future
|A comet was in the sky during one year of the novel’s timeframe: very frightening to people back then.
Right now, February 2023, a comet is in the sky: my brother took this photo of it.
A comet, I think, is longer seen as an omen.
"The comet resembles a scythe aimed at humanity, a naked glistening blade that might slice off millions of heads at any moment, and not only the ones on the craned necks in Ivanie, but also city dwellers’ heads, Lwów heads, Kraków heads—even royal heads. There is no doubt it is a sign of the end of the world, a harbinger of angels rolling up the whole show like a rug." (p. 492 [counting backwards]).
I'm Probably Wrong but...
So difficult! What reviewers said:
"The reader’s task is to deduce a higher order out of the patchwork of scenes and fragments. It does require patience – and I’m not sure that I would recommend newcomers to Tokarczuk’s work start here. But The Books of Jacob, which is so demanding and yet has so much to say about the issues that rack our times, will be a landmark in the life of any reader with the appetite to tackle it." (source)
The New York Times reviewer has many admiring paragraphs about the novel; but in conclusion says:
"Yet the characters remain at a distance. ‘The Books of Jacob’ rarely touches the emotions. No page, for me, turned itself. A word from 'Finnegans Wake' came to mind: thunderslog.
"I don’t mean to dissuade. As with certain operas, I’m glad to have had the experience — and equally glad that it’s over." (source)
The Washington Post reviewer says:
"In terms of its scope and ambition, 'The Books of Jacob' is beyond anything else I’ve ever read. ...What can explain the willingness of people to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, their souls to leaders who lead them astray? Tokarczuk lets the branching narratives of this novel respond to that perennial conundrum. 'The truth is like a gnarled tree,' she writes, 'made up of many layers that are twisted all around each other.' In that sense, 'The Books of Jacob' is a whole forest of such trees — haunting and irresistible." (source)
And a bookish character in The Books of Jacob says:
“'Literature is a particular type of knowledge, it is'—he sought the right words, and suddenly a phrase came ready to his lips—'the perfection of imprecise forms.'” (pp. 15-14 [counting backwards]).
Review © 2023 mae sander.