The page of Tokarczuk, Olga, English biography
BiographyOlga Tokarczuk (born 29 January 1962 in Sulechów near Zielona Góra, Poland) is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing.
Before starting her literary career, from 1980 Tokarczuk trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw. During her studies, she volunteered in an asylum for adolescents with behavioural problems. After her graduation in 1985, she moved first to Wrocław and later to Wałbrzych, where she began practising as a therapist. Tokarczuk considers herself a disciple of Carl Jung and cites his psychology as an inspiration for her literary work. Since 1998, Tokarczuk has lived in a small village near Nowa Ruda, from where she also manages her private publishing company Ruta.
1989 saw the publication of Tokarczuk's first book, a collection of poems entitled Miasta w lustrach ("Cities in mirrors"). Her debut novel, Podróż ludzi księgi ("The Journey of the Book-People"), a parable on two lovers' quest for the "secret of the Book" (a metaphor for the meaning of life) set in 17th century France, appeared in 1993 and gained her instant popularity with the audience and reviewers. The follow-up novel E. E. (1996) took its title from the initials of its protagonist, a young woman named "Erna Eltzner", who grows up in a bourgeois German-Polish family in Breslau (the German city that was to become the Polish Wrocław after World War II) in the 1920s, who develops psychic abilities.
Tokarczuk's third novel Prawiek i inne czasy ("Immemorial and other times") was published in 1996 and remains her most successful to date. It is set in the fictitious village of Prawiek (the name means "Immemorial time") at the very heart of Poland, which is populated by some eccentric, archetypical characters. The village is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Prawiek's inhabitants over a period of eight decades, beginning in 1914. Parallel to but strangely detached from Poland's meandering political history during this time, it describes the continuum of all human joys and pains, which Prawiek seems to contain as in a nutshell. Prawiek... was translated into many languages (although not yet into English) and established Tokarczuk's international reputation as one of the most important representatives of Polish literature in her generation.
After Prawiek..., Tokarczuk's work began drifting away from the novel genre towards shorter prose texts and essays. Her next book Szafa ("The Wardrobe", 1997) was a collection of three novella-type stories. Dom dzienny, dom nocny ("House of Day, House of Night", 1998), although nominally a novel, is rather a patchwork of loosely connected disparate stories, sketches, and essays about life past and present in the author's adopted home since that year, a village in the Sudetes near the Polish-Czech border. Even though arguably Tokarczuk's most "difficult", at least for those unfamiliar with Central European history, it is her only book to have been published in English so far.
Since then, Tokarczuk wrote several collections of short stories - Gra na wielu bębenkach ("Playing on many drums", 2001) and, most recently, Ostatnie historie ("The last stories") - as well as a non-fiction essay on Bolesław Prus' classic novel The Doll (Lalka i perła /"The Doll and the Pearl", 2000). She also published a volume with three modern Christmas tales together with her equally popular male colleagues Jerzy Pilch and Andrzej Stasiuk (Opowieści wigilijne, 2000).
Tokarczuk is the laureate of numerous literary awards both in and outside Poland. Although she never received the main jury award of the most important Polish accolade, the NIKE, she won the audience award three times out of nine times since 1997, Prawiek i inne czasy being the award's first recipient ever.