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Anna Dulska, Associate Professor at School Philosophy and ICS researcher.

Nobel Prize-winning imagination

Fri, 11 Oct 2019 11:28:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The Swedish Academy has decided to award award Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2018 to Polish Olga Tokarczuk, one of Poland's most renowned contemporary authors.

Born in 1962 and a psychologist from training, Tokarczuk builds her works around her fascination for the mysterious, occult and spiritual. With great skill, she weaves the threads of culture, mythologies and history with fiction. His novels and essays are multidimensional, dense and complex, but at the same time allow for a pleasant reading; sometimes superficial and, many times, intellectually deeper, in search of existential meanings, messages and reflections, invisible to the naked eye. 

From the beginning of his literary degree program , undertaken in the 1990s, when he debuted in 1993 with the novel "The Journey of the Book People," he moved away from the mainstream of Polish literature of that time, focused on the social and cultural challenges posed by the post-communist transition. Tokarczuk chose to work on fundamental issues. Perhaps it was this unique style that brought him into the postmodern contemporary. Feminist and ecological elements and criticisms of anthropocentrism are not alien to his works. His works are universal; subsequent generations are able to find in them answers to the dilemmas that concern them. This is also the reasoning behind the Academy's decision: "For a narrative imagination that, with encyclopedic passion, represents the crossing of frontiers as a way of life". 

His most outstanding book, published in 2007 and awarded last year with the prestigious Man Booker, is "Bieguni"(Flights, in its English translation). The degree scroll alludes to a branch of the Old Believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to which the world is permeated by evil, but humans can hinder its access to them when they remain in continuous movement. Thus, interspersing texts of culture, fiction and autobiographical elements, Tokarczuk deals with the phenomenon of the human journey, its psychological dimension and the concerns it implies. 

His books have been translated in numerous languages, but for Spanish-speaking readers, for the moment only "Un lugar llamado Antaño" (Barcelona: Lumen, 2011; the original published in 1996) is available at available in Spanish. It is a unique novel, very ambitious and complex, which reflects on the coexistence of humans with nature. Antaño is an imaginary village located in the center of Poland, fully integrated with the environment, as if it were a microcosm or a Buddhist mandala, as one of the critics put it. 

Tokarczuk is the fifth representative of Poland to receive this great distinction, after Henryk Sienkiewicz, Władysław Reymont, Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska. Her literary creation is a great contribution to the country's contemporary culture, while her numerous international accolades - now including the Nobel Prize - also give her the enormous responsibility of being Poland's cultural ambassador to the world. As a Pole myself, I trust she will do as well as she writes sophisticated fiction; as a historian, I hope no one will mistake her "narrative imagination" for anything other than fiction.