“Jacob’s Scriptures” by Olga Tokarczuk — discussion

28.04.2015, 11 a.m. — Come join us for a meeting with Olga Tokarczuk. The discussion will be lead by dr Bożena Keff and dr hab. Jan Doktór (ŻIH) will also participate.

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1752. Katarzyna Kossakowska, the wife of a castellan, and Elżbieta Drużbacka, a poetess accompanying her, arrive in Rohatyn in the Podolia region. One of the guests at the welcoming feast is the local parson Benedykt Chmielowski, the author of the first Polish encyclopedia. The priest and the poetess immediately find a common language — they begin a discussion that they will later continue in letters.  

Some time later Jakub Leibowicz Frank, young, handsome and charismatic, also arrives in Rohatyn. The mysterious arrival from distant Smyrna begins voicing ideas that quickly divide the Jewish community. For some a heretic, for others a messiah, he soon has a circle of devoted students around him and the havoc his presence wreaks might change the course of history. 

Almost a thousand pages, dozens of story arcs and characters- Jacob’s Scripturesis impressive in its literary greatness, its multiple layers and its many possible interpretations. Olga Tokarczuk draws from the traditions of the historical novel and at the same time broadens the genre’s boundaries. With a great attention to detail she presents the realities of the time, the architecture, the fashion, even the smells. We visit the courts of the nobility, Catholic parsonages and Jewish households, full of prayer and the reading of mysterious writings. The author weaves for her readers the image of Poland past, a Poland where Christianity, Judaism and even Islam coexisted with each other. 

Jacob’s Scriptures is not just a book about the past. You can also read it as a, sometimes mystical, reflection on history itself, its twists and turns, which decide the fates of entire nations. In 18th century, on the threshold of the Enlightenment and before the partitions, the excellent author seeks the answers to questions concerning the current shape of our part of Europe.

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