Olga Tokarczuk Interview: On Poland

One of the most recognized and critically acclaimed contemporary Polish writers, Olga Tokarczuk, here talks about Poland’s complicated history and why it’s a great – even unique – place for a writer: “Nothing is obvious in Poland, you have to narrate everything afresh.”

“You need to retell Polish history by means of a new language. The Polish language is one of the best when it comes to expressing difficult things. That’s why we have such brilliant poets.” Tokarczuk praises the Polish language for being “great working material,” generating no less than two Nobel Laureate poets in the last generation – Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska. On the other hand, Poland, which is located between the West and the East, “is a place where you rarely feel safe in an existential sense.” This, however, is also what makes Polish and other Central European literature unique: “It questions reality more. It’s more distrustful of stable, permanent things.” Tokarczuk feels that posing these questions enriches rather than limits their literature.

“I suddenly realised that being Polish meant belonging to a cultural community that posed a real challenge. It’s not easy to be Polish. You can easily lose your Polishness by disappearing into the big world.” On the subject of Polish patriotism nowadays, Tokarczuk believes that it comprises many different identities, which interact “and grow into a sort of cultural affiliation with Western Europe.” In the past twenty years, rather than being nationalist or xenophobic, patriotism has more to do with working, creating and connecting with the surrounding world.

Olga Tokarczuk (b. 1962) is a Polish writer. She has written several novels, a collection of poems, as well as books with shorter prose works. Among her novels are ‘Primeval and Other Times’ (1996), ‘House of Day, House of Night’ (1998), ‘The Books of Jacob’ (2014) and ‘Flights’ (2017, originally published in 2008) for which she is nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2018. Tokarczuk is the recipient of multiple awards including the Nike Award in 2008 and 2015. Tokarczuk is also the recipient of the German-Polish International Bridge Prize (2015).

Olga Tokarczuk was interviewed by Marie Tetzlaff in August 2016 in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in Denmark.

Camera: Klaus Elmer Edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen Produced by: Christian Lund Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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