I have been excited to read this award-winning book by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) since House of Day, House of Night joined my 2018 Reading Challenge list as #44, a book tied to your ancestry. I’m an American, and like many Americans, my ancestry traces back to a number of European roots, Polish being one.
I wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted to go with this prompt, so I decided to start by investigating Polish authors. I found a couple of intriguing possibilities. Ultimately, I think it was this book’s description that appealed to me:
Nowa Ruda is a small town in Silesia, a region that has at times been part of Poland, Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia. When the narrator of Olga Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night moves into the area, she discovers that everyone—and everything—has a story. With the help of Marta, her enigmatic neighbor, she collects these stories, and what emerges is the message that the history of any place—no matter how humble—is limitless and universal.
Tokarczuk’s richly imagined novel is an epic of a small place. A best-seller in Poland, House of Day, House of Night is the English-language debut of one of Europe’s best young writers. (from the back cover)
There is a very deep sense of place throughout this book, something that I think many Americans have never experienced. There are things that in the world of this place just are, like the ravages of war that trampled through multiple times as this particular territory changed political hands more than once. Things such as unexploded bombs and treasures buried and left behind by evacuees ever hopeful of returning.
The language in this book is absolutely beautiful. There are segments that are truly stunning. One of my favorites is this passage where the narrator decides she wants to be a mushroom:
If I weren’t a person, I’d be a mushroom. An indifferent, insensitive mushroom with a cold, slimy skin, hard and soft at the same time. I would grow on fallen trees; I’d be murky and sinister, ever silent, and with my creeping mushroomy fingers I would suck the last drop of sunlight out of them.
It’s hard to say why I loved this book. It’s a slow read, meandering and without a clear plot line. It is made up of little vignettes that at first glance lack any sort of cohesion. But they cycle back again and again with recurring themes and characters. Though not my usual sort of read by any stretch, I really enjoyed this book.