Primeval and Other Times – Olga Tokarczuk, 1 Magical Story

Primeval and Other Times is the first book I read by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk. I read the book quickly, in two nights. I neither wanted to separate from the characters nor to get out of the Primeval. It was a great feeling to remember drawers with worlds inside. This alone was enough for me to admire the book.


It is not easy to write about Primeval and Other Times. Blending myth and history, the book has a powerful feminine perspective, which adds a great feeling to the book. Although there is no clear plot, the story flows, and one finds other worlds to think about in each character.

Primeval and Other Times - Olga Tokarczuk

So what is Primeval and Other Times about? As a matter of fact, each reader will answer this differently, and possibly with more than one answer. I felt war’s horror to my bones in the war chapters, which gave me stomach pain while reading. In every episode about Cornspike, I thought how much we detached from nature, live nonsense lives, and gradually become dehumanized because we are disconnected from nature.

I saw that the concept of God and religion are constantly changing, and we need this change. I witnessed that we need to listen to more fairy tales, play more games, and live with a little more awareness, albeit occasionally. And at the end of all of this, however, I saw our attempt to give meaning to this thing called life. How magical and strange to be human.

I tried to imagine how a Polish would feel when she/he reads this book and how her/his heart would break; After all, this story is part of Poland, both with its history and folklore. However, like any good book, this book is so universal and so inclusive of all of us that I have found that I am no different from a Polish in the way that my heart broke.

Primeval and Other Times took me to my childhood. I have always found myself imagining the various rooms of the house where I grew up and the gardens with various trees I played in. But when Popielski started playing the game, the book turned into something else, and then I couldn’t think of anything else.

As I said, it is not easy to write about Primeval and Other Times. It tells a lot, makes you think a lot. I was both uneasy and relieved as all the things I had thought about had surfaced again and became a little more meaningful. I could not help but think that I am fortunate to have read The Power of Myth before this; I would have read a completely different book and missed a lot.

I’d suggest you read Joseph Campbell before reading this book; it may change a lot. Enjoy!

Primeval and Other Times - Olga Tokarczuk

Primeval and Other Times

Set in the mythical Polish village of Primeval, a microcosm of the world populated with eccentric, archetypal characters and guarded by four archangels, this novel from Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk chronicles the lives of the inhabitants over the course of the feral 20th century in prose that is forceful, direct, and the stylistic cousin of the magic realism in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Told in short bursts of “Time,” the narrative takes the form of a stylized fable, an epic allegory about the inexorable grind of time and the clash between modernity (the masculine) and nature (the feminine) in which Poland’s tortured political history from 1914 to the contemporary era and the episodic brutality visited on ordinary village life is played out. A novel of universal dimension that does not dwell on the parochial, Primeval and Other Times was hailed as a contemporary European classic and heralded Tokarczuk.

Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, (born January 29, 1962, Sulechów, Poland), Polish writer who was known for her wry and complex novels that leap between centuries, places, perspectives, and mythologies. She received the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature (awarded belatedly in 2019), lauded for her “narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” A best-selling author in Poland for decades, Tokarczuk was not well known outside her homeland until she became the country’s first author to win the Man Booker International Prize in 2018 for Flights (2017)—the English translation of her sixth novel, Bieguni (2007).

Primeval and Other Times - Olga Tokarczuk

The daughter of two teachers, Tokarczuk grew up in a progressive intellectual household. She later studied psychology at the University of Warsaw, where she became interested in the writings of Carl Jung. After graduating in 1985, Tokarczuk took a job as a clinical psychologist but left after becoming disillusioned by the work. She obtained a travel visa and laboured at odd jobs in London before she returned to Poland and published a book of poetry in 1989.

In 1993 Tokarczuk wrote her first novel, Podróż ludzi księgi (“The Journey of the Book-People”), a parable set in 17th-century France and Spain. It won the Polish Publisher’s Prize for best debut. Her third novel, Prawiek i inne czasy (1996; Primeval and Other Times), established Tokarczuk as an imaginative author and crucial Polish voice. The saga follows the inhabitants of a mythical Polish village through successive generations in the 20th century. In 1998 Tokarczuk published Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night), the first of what she called her “constellations novels,” stories that tell seemingly fragmented narratives.

Tokarczuk’s works from the 2000s included Gra na wielu bębenkach (2001; “Beating on Many Drums”), a book of short stories; Bieguni, a collection of vignettes of people in transit; and Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (2009; Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead), an environmentalist murder mystery.

She received Poland’s prestigious Nike Prize in 2008 for Bieguni and again in 2015 for her historical novel Księgi Jakubowe (2014; “The Books of Jacob”), which was considered her masterpiece. Told through the perspectives of different characters, the narrative chronicles the life of Jacob Frank, the 18th-century Polish sect leader who encouraged his Jewish followers to convert to Islam and Catholicism. Tokarczuk’s willingness to scrutinize Poland’s history made her a contentious figure in her country, notably criticized by right-wing nationalists.

In addition to her literary works, Tokarczuk cowrote the script for the feature film Pokot (2017; Spoor), which was based on Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. She also inaugurated an annual literary festival in 2015, held in the summer near her home in Silesia, southern Poland.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

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