Arrives Olga Tokarczuk (Sulechów, 1962), the Polish Nobel Prize winner, with her modern dreadlocks to the CCCB in Barcelona to inaugurate ‘¡Europa!’, a cycle in which the fate of the old continent will be debated, and as she herself has noted with no little humor, her hairstyle can well be considered a ‘plica polonica’, a shapeless mass of matted hair that from the 17th century onwards endured so much peasants as aristocrats and who, for better or worse, is associated with their homeland. That’s who she is: paying attention to the stories of the past to tell them with the forms of the present through polyphonic novels that she constructs as if she were “a magpie” – the concept is hers -, stealing stories from here and there so that from them a new narrative emerges.
He did that with his most recognized novel ‘The Wanderers’ (‘Cos’, in Catalan) and is doing it again now with the ambitious and mammoth ‘The Books of Jacob’ (Anagrama), originally published in 2014, with its 1064 pages that are numbered backwards – the last one has the number 1 – and its tree-like plots, through a fictional, heretical and surprisingly real character, the Jew Jacob Frank, who traveled through the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire meeting a thousand and one fascinating characters. “I discovered Jacob a while ago and was surprised that his wonderful story had been forgotten. I immediately thought that the situation in Europe 200 years ago is similar to the current one: then there were also many people who came from elsewhere (I refuse to talk about immigrants) trying to deal with their tradition and their language while they had to negotiate with a new society. It also meant for me to be able to talk about Polish Jews, beyond the issue of the Holocaust, which is what is best known.”
For the author, the novel also meant talking about the territory that its protagonist travels and that coincides, in part, with the homeland of her paternal family, today belonging to Ukraine, forced to leave after the First World War. Her grandmother, without going any further, had four different passports. Nothing that a Pole doesn’t have in his genealogical history. The conflict has always been there. “We Poles feel very involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine, a country that is very close to us and with which we share a border,” she points out.
Literature and art in general still have an impact on social life because they are very deep and sophisticated ways of exercising communication between people.
Cultivator of one literature at a time avant-garde and old, the Nobel Prize winner is a great activist for environmentalism, animal rights, feminism and LGTBI rights, an ideal combination to place herself at the center of the political storm if in your country, as is the case, the extreme right governs . The criticism of the new fascists has already intensified with the film adaptation of one of the author’s novels, ‘On the bones of the dead’which was directed by the veteran Agnieszka Holland. They were both branded “anti-Christian” and inducers of “terrorism.” That film greatly divided Polish society, something that has happened again with Holland’s latest release, ‘The Green Border’, which places its action between Poland and Belarus showing corrupt Polish police, which has fueled ultranationalist demonstrations in throughout the country, in a particularly heated climate since elections are held in Poland in three weeks. “Agnieska’s film is fantastic and very exciting, but it has been attacked with virulence and she has been forced to take protection. “I have advised him to leave the country directly,” says the author, while to herself and, despite being a figure also in the crosshairs of the current government, she says she has learned to live with it without paying attention to it: ” When they attacked me, we went to court and the culprits were punished. The impressive thing about all this is to contemplate how literature and art in general still have an impact on social life because they are very deep and sophisticated ways of exercising communication between people. It can be said of us creators that we have our heads in the clouds but we are fighters”.
Tokarczuk appears very supporter of a Europeanism that overcomes nationalisms and, as an expert psychotherapist that she was for years, believes that we must look optimistically at the future, even going so far as to embrace what psychologists call the Pollyanna syndrome –by the positive child character- who cultivated a bomb-proof faith in the future: “I think that Europe is the best idea that has been invented in the last hundred years and I am very proud that it still exists in quite good shape, despite all the problems we have with immigration, climate change or political radicalization. I believe that we must do everything in our power to continue together and I say this from my perspective as a Polish citizen who sees how her government is trying to make a difference with respect to the European Union. “Many of us in Poland are afraid of where this policy can take us.”
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