There are no easy answers in this complex, multi-character novel about the historical messianic cult figure Jacob Frank. It was controversial in Poland upon its publication for its unflinching look at the pervasive anti-semitism that dominates the country's historical legacy. But there are no simple heroes or humble victims in this story. It is instead a detailed account of how a cult is born, how misinformation becomes a weapon, and how one charismatic man, emboldened by a fervent group of followers, can inspire others to commit truly "strange deeds" in the hope of salvation. This deeply researched philosophical and historical novel is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth the time and effort. Truly outstanding.— From Fisher's Picks
“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.
About the Author
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.
Advance praise for The Books of Jacob:
“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
“Monumental . . . could help the Swedish Academy restore its rather tattered reputation as an arbiter of serious literature. …Tokarczuk is as comfortable rendering the world of the Jewish peasantry as that of the Polish royal court. . . . Incalculably rich in learning and driven by a faith in the numinous properties of knowledge.” – Wall Street Journal
“It’s just as awe-inspiring as the Nobel judges claimed. . . . Miraculously entertaining and consistently fascinating. Despite his best efforts, Frank never mastered alchemy, but Tokarczuk certainly has. . . . Haunting and irresistible.” – The Washington Post
“Yes, there’s a miracle in these pages. It’s not about the Virgin Mary or the false Messiah Jacob Frank, however, but the way Tokarczuk can make a period so distant from us in every way feel so completely alive.” – LA Times
“Tokarczuk aims high, spinning a layered, majestic, polyphonic novel based on a real-life figure. . . . A golden age of historical fiction is upon us: Tokarczuk links arms with Hilary Mantel and Colson Whitehead, connecting our own perilous moment with the past.” – Oprah Daily
“A colossal work - an epic, a fable, a history, sometimes a satire, always a magnum opus.” – NPR
“Funny, tragic, comprehensive, and at times hilariously graphic … both earthy and ethereal.”—Boston Globe
“You can practically smell the damp earth, the household fires, the dry paper of Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s epic set across the villages of 18th-century Poland. Everything about The Books of Jacob, including Tokarczuk’s generous, comfortable style, is vast but meticulously detailed.” – Vulture
“Olga Tokarczuk is one of our greatest living fiction writers, Jennifer Croft’s translations are always magnificent, and this epic thousand-page novel is said to be their magnum opus. . . . This could well be a decade-defining book akin to Bolaño’s 2666.” –AV Club
“Contains an entire overflowing, sensual world to get lost in. . . . truly bewitching account of untold fissures in history, minor religions, little lives, and splinterings-off. It is rich, strange, astonishing in scope, and delightfully enigmatic. . . . Tokarczuk’s magnum opus shows us a world on the precipice of a great change, one hand clinging to certainty while the other reaches for transcendence.” –World Literature Today
“Truly an epic historical novel.” – Hey Alma
“Deeply researched [and] fascinating. . . [it] has the power to both enlighten and unnerve, especially in its eerie reflection of the rampant prejudices and inequalities that roil our world today.” –Hadassah Magazine
“[A] subtle and sensuous masterpiece. . . . Readers are rewarded throughout with tender and ebullient moments. . . . In the hands of Tokarczuk and Croft, these concerns feel real and vital. . . . This visionary work will undoubtedly be read and talked about by lovers of literature for years to come.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A massive achievement that will intrigue and baffle readers for years to come.” –Kirkus (starred review)
“Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s magnum opus. . . . With language that’s engaging, erudite, and spiced with witty colloquialisms and wonderful turns of phrase via Jennifer Croft’s supple translation, Tokarczuk explores the state of being an outsider in places with fixed cultural boundaries. . . . A wealth of fine quotidian detail and brilliantly connected narrative threads draw the reader in. . . . masterful.” –Booklist (starred review)
“As crowded as a Bruegel painting. . . visionary. . . . Tokarczuk is wrestling with the biggest philosophical themes: the purpose of life on earth, the nature of religion, the possibility of redemption, the fraught and terrible history of eastern European Jewry. . . . A landmark.” –The Guardian
“A kind of literary miracle.” –The Times (UK)