Primeval and Other Times Paperback – 1 Jan 2010
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[The novel] recounts the hard passage of an imaginary village through a century of conflict, distant coups and decay ... Overlooking all is a vain selfish God who has become thoroughly bored with mankind and who must play second fiddle in Ms Tokarczuk's pantheistic world to material things... --The Economist
From odds and ends of real history Tokarczuk builds a myth, i.e., a history with a rigid order, where all the events, including the bad and tragic ones, have their reasons for happening. She organizes space according to the model of the mandala -- a circle drawn inside a square, which is the geometrical image of perfection and completion. --Gazeta Wyborcza
In this epic novel Olga Tokarczuk has drawn on the tradition of magic realism to create a world permeated with ancient myths as much as it is firmly rooted in the present. --Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The author draws the reader into a sadistic world that is described in a language that is crystalline and pure as water from a well. --De Morgen
Olga Tokarczuk's myth of "Primeval" is far from simplistic. She is not satisfied with merely glossing traditional mythical narratives, and we will not find many of these in her novel. Her method is more sophisticated. Perhaps we would do well to recall that wonderful Polish tradition of "mythmaking," as in the works of Bruno Schulz and Boleslaw Lesmian, where the mythical perception of the world takes precedence over simply presenting the memes of myth, as it were, which are meant to point to readymade archetypes.
--Lidove noviny (Prague)
About the Author
Olga Tokarczuk was born in 1962 in Sulechow near Zielona Gora, Poland. A recipient of all of Poland's top literary awards, she is one of the most critically acclaimed authors of her generation. Since the publication of her first book, a collection of poems, in 1989, Tokarczuk has published nine volumes of stories, novellas, and novels and one book-length essay. Her novels PRIMEVAL AND OTHER TIMES and House of Day, House of Night has been translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Tokarczuk is the recipient of the 2008 Nike Prize, Poland's national book award.
ntonia Lloyd-Jones is a full-time translator of Polish literature. Her published translations include fiction by several of Poland's leading contemporary novelists, including The Last Supper by Pawel Huelle, for which she won the Found in Translation Award 2008. Her most recent translations include The Night Wanderers by Wojciech Jagielski (Seven Stories, February 2012), reportage about the child victims of the Lord's Resistance Army and the events in Uganda which led to its emergence. She won the Found in Translation Award in 2012 for Saturn.
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Top Customer Reviews
It follows the village as it lives through the trials of the Twentieth Century, beginning in 1914 and ending with Solidarity in 1980.
Set up as part parable, part allegory, Primeval is complicated and intellectually challenging. This is not easy bedtime reading, although like all good allegory it is possible to read it purely on face value. Tackling issues including man versus nature, masculine versus feminine and the unstoppable movement of time, this is a weighty tome, written in a deceptively simple style.
Structurally it is divided into 'Times' chapters that could be read as flash fiction, but all linking together to form the whole. Each 'Time' tells the story of a resident, mostly human, but not always. Some of them recur, some are connected, but they are all capable of standing alone. Through these snippets we follow three generations of the village and they live their lives and the world gets in the way. We see children born, people die, wars, natural disasters. We view the machinations of the world in a microcosm.
This is a book about symbolism and repetition, both within the structure and the story. Characters seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes despite the fact that the world is trying to tell them not to. Jung is in evidence here, as is Christian Scripture, and the impression is one of things happening beneath the surface.
I'm not sure I am clever enough to grasp the full level of religious and philosophical thinking that runs through 'Primeval and other Times.Read more ›
Primeval is a provincial village guarded by four angels, into which the Black River and the White River merge. It is a kind of metaphor for the Polish countryside - the great wars and political events of the twentieth century impact upon it, but its inhabitants continue to live a sealed existence. Within the village are many mythical archetypes: a "Bad Man" who lives in the woods, a witch, an old woman who talks to the moon, a man who plays a board game to understand the mind of God. The tale is structured through numerous small chapters, each entitled "The Time of...". As such we switch quickly from character to character, slowly building up a picture of the community over time.
The novel is rich with symbolism and hidden meaning - Christian allegory, pagan myth, Gnostiscim, Jungian theory and Buddhist philosophy are all woven in, but Tokarczuk's sparse style is light enough that it never feels a heavy read. Nevertheless it's the kind of book that merits a second read - or even a third.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The stories of human couples are intertwined with the natural and spiritual world in a series of short chapters that form a mosaic of human and non-human experience. The writing is so powerful that the reader is not so much reading as being. The plot is less important than the place, which is numinous. This reader did feel that she was indeed in the presence of something primeval.
The writing in and of itself is reason to read this enchanting tale but to assume that is all Primeval has to offer does not do it justice. The intertwining tales of the village and its inhabitants both human and not as they experience the world change, God go in and out of favor, and the natural progression of age have a captivating and authentic feel. As the years go forward, each character develops in ways that real people do and the lives become ones that begin to feel like family. Their sorrows are yours. So too are their joys.
This is a story that will stick with you. It will change the way you perceive time, space and relationships. In the end it will feel like the most real book you have read in a lifetime.