There’s something of Grimm’s fairy tales in this novel, one of two Nobel award winners this year. A small community in a Transylvanian forest. Once the weekend visitors leave for the summer, hunters, a priest, a rich landowner, a mushroom picker, and an eccentric older woman living alone, witch-like, remain. There’s a splash of Winnie the Pooh, too. Some nouns in this closed-off place are made proper like Pooh does: Deer, Little Girls, Ailments, Tools. The main character (the eccentric woman) shares the wise innocence of the original Pooh, before Disney got ahold of him. But this is no children’s story. The heroine’s quiet semi-retired existence turns upside down when three of the village’s patriarchs turn up dead.
Once a bridge engineer, then a teacher of small children, Janina, who hates her given name, moves to a remote hamlet near the Czech border. She watches over the homes of summer residents and teaches English to make money, but spends most of her time tending experimental pea sprouts, like Darwin, walking in the woods and making Horoscopes. She reads the movements in the sky as predictors of the future and explanations of the past. The world’s fate is woven into the stars, obvious to those who can read the coded tapestry. She enjoys weekly visits with Dizzy, whom she helps translate Blake into Polish, and Good News, clerk at the thrift store, and Oddball, her tidy ex-accountant neighbor. Oddball wakes her late one night to help him dress Big Foot, another neighbor, a poacher, whom Oddball has just discovered dead. Soon, two other bodies are found murdered. Janina suspects the Animals of taking revenge on these hunters.
Scandal takes over the once idyllic village. A Writer, one of the summer residents, decides not to return. Although she writes horror stories, she’s frightened by the threat of a murderer on the loose. Janina has nightmares of her mother and grandmother returning from the dead. Her mysterious Ailments return and she is out of commission for weeks. A nuanced struggle between Good and Evil ensues. A plot twist upends any stark moralistic reading.
Drive the Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is devastatingly beautiful. Fantasy swells through reality to reveal Truths about death, justice and art only fiction can tell.