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The Books of Jacob
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Brief Descriptions

Set in the mid-18th century, this sweeping novel follows a mysterious, Messianic religious leader as he, traversing the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, reinvents himself again and again and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike. Illustrations. - (Baker & Taylor)

“Just as awe-inspiring as the Nobel judges claimed.” – The Washington Post

“Olga Tokarczuk is one of our greatest living fiction writers. . . This could well be a decade-defining book akin to Bolaño’s 2666.” –AV Club

“Sophisticated and ribald and brimming with folk wit. . . The comedy in this novel blends, as it does in life, with genuine tragedy.” –Dwight Garner, The New York Times


The Nobel Prize–winner’s richest, most sweeping and ambitious novel yet follows the comet-like rise and fall of a mysterious, messianic religious leader as he blazes his way across eighteenth-century Europe.

In the mid-eighteenth century, as new ideas—and a new unrest—begin to sweep the Continent, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Before long, he has changed not only his name but his persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following. In the decade to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires with throngs of disciples in his thrall as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumors of his sect’s secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs. The story of Frank—a real historical figure around whom mystery and controversy swirl to this day—is the perfect canvas for the genius and unparalleled reach of Olga Tokarczuk. Narrated through the perspectives of his contemporaries—those who revere him, those who revile him, the friend who betrays him, the lone woman who sees him for what he is—The Books of Jacob captures a world on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence.

In a nod to books written in Hebrew, The Books of Jacob is paginated in reverse, beginning on p. 955 and ending on p. 1 – but read traditionally, front cover to back. - (Penguin Putnam)

Author Biography

Olga Tokarczuk has won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the International Booker Prize, among many other honors. She is the author of a dozen works of fiction, two collections of essays, and a children’s book; her work has been translated into fifty languages.

Jennifer Croft won the 2020 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing for her illustrated memoir Homesick and the 2018 Booker International Prize for her translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. - (Penguin Putnam)

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Reviews Via Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Nobel laureate Tokarczuk's subtle and sensuous masterpiece (after Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead) weaves together the stories of characters searching for a meaningful life and spiritual truth in Eastern and Southeastern Europe during the second half of the 18th century. The novel's wide cast includes Nahman, a Jewish merchant who has abandoned his familial responsibilities to study religious philosophy; and Moliwda, a Polish Christian ashamed of his past and intrigued by Judaism. They are connected by their fascination with the novel's central character, Jacob Frank, a charismatic Jewish merchant who proclaims himself the Messiah and gathers a following with his erotic and liberated vision of life. Jacob's Jewish followers are encouraged to eat religiously banned food products and get baptized, and—importantly for the libidinous Jacob—adultery is no longer frowned upon among his following. Readers are rewarded throughout with tender and ebullient moments, such as the jubilant dancing of Jacob and his followers as they wait to cross into Polish territory on a mission to spread his message. Nahman and Moliwda spend a good deal of time holding conversations on conundrums that are difficult for them to square, such as life's difficulty despite the purported goodness of God. In the hands of Tokarczuk and Croft, these concerns feel real and vital—the result of Tokarczuk's deep investment in her material. This visionary work will undoubtedly be read and talked about by lovers of literature for years to come. (Feb.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

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