After a very long translation process—seven years of work!—Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s greatest novel will soon be available to English readers. Fitzcarraldo Editions will publish The Books of Jacob, translated by Jennifer Croft, in the UK this November, and Riverhead will publish it in the US in February 2022.
In conferring the Nobel Prize in 2019, the Swedish Academy described the novel as Tokarczuk’s “magnum opus” and wrote that her writing shows “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” But as The Guardian reports, it also was the reason Tokarczuk was subjected to death threats in her native Poland.
“For someone who writes in a so-called “minor language,” being published in English is like being launched into outer space,” Tokarczuk told The Guardian. “Once it happens, the work becomes available everywhere and to practically anyone. . . I hope that as a result my local, true story set in the 18th century will become a universal tale about crossing borders and the spirit of rebellion that’s always moldering within humankind.”
When Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize, Croft was still in the middle of translating The Books of Jacob into English. In The Paris Review, she wrote:
The Books of Jacob is a monumental novel that delves into the life and times of the controversial historical figure Jacob Frank, leader of a heretical Jewish splinter group that ranged the Habsburg and Ottoman empires and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth seeking basic safety as well as transcendence. Considered by many to be her masterpiece, The Books of Jacob is also a suspenseful and entertaining novel that remained a national best seller for nearly a year after its release.
Although set in the eighteenth century, The Books of Jacob invokes a decidedly twenty-first century zeitgeist. It encourages its readers to re-examine their histories and reconsider their perspectives on the shape Europe will take in coming years. In its plot and characters, it celebrates and problematizes diversity. It subtly participates in the debates dividing Europe—and the world—on how to protect tolerance, how to define intolerance, how to set and abide by the limits of contemporary sovereignty, and how to handle, in both practical and moral terms, an influx of refugees into Central Europe.
The book is a doorstop, over 1,100 pages, and will be Tokarzcuk’s first novel to be published in English since she won the Nobel Prize. Considering that I already thought Flights was her magnum opus, I can’t wait.