Primeval and Other Times
Tokarczuk’s third novel, was awarded the Koscielski Foundation Prize in 1997, which established the author as one of the leading voices in Polish letters. It is set in the mythical village of Primeval in the very heart of Poland, which is populated by eccentric, archetypal characters. The village, a microcosm of Europe, is guarded by four archangels, from whose perspective the novel chronicles the lives of Primeval’s inhabitants over the course of the feral 20th century. In prose that is forceful and direct, the narrative follows Poland’s tortured political history from 1914 to the contemporary era and the episodic brutality that is visited on ordinary village life. Yet is a novel of universal dimension that does not dwell on the parochial. A stylized fable as well as epic allegory about the inexorable grind of time, the clash between modernity (the masculine) and nature (the feminine), it has been translated into most European languages. Tokarczuk has said of the novel: “I always wanted to write a book such as this. One that creates and describes a world. It is the story of a world that, like all things living, is born, develops, and then dies.” Kitchens, bedrooms, childhood memories, dreams and insomnia, reminiscences, and amnesia – these are part of the existential and acoustic spaces from which the voices of Tokarczuk’s tale come, her “boxes in boxes.”
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Primeval is the place at the centre of the universe.
To walk at a brisk pace across Primeval from north to south would take an hour, and the same from east to west. And if someone wanted to go right round Primeval, at a slow pace, taking a careful, considered look at everything, it would take him a whole day, from morning to evening.
To the north the border of Primeval is the road from Taszów to Kielce, busy and dangerous, because it arouses the anxiety of travel. The Archangel Raphael protects this border.
To the south the town of Jeszkotle marks the border, with its church, old people’s home and low-rise tenements surrounding a muddy marketplace. The town presents a threat because it arouses the desire to possess and be possessed. The Archangel Gabriel guards Primeval on the town side.
From south to north, from Jeszkotle to the Kielce road runs the Highway, with Primeval lying on either side of it.