New novel by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk

New novel by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk

Released on 20..1913

  • The Polish Nobel Prize winner for Literature Olga Tokarczuk presents a new novel. Photo: Hans Punz/APA/dpa

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Olga Tokarczuk’s new book is set in a pre-war period 1913 in a spa town in Lower Silesia. From there it is not far to Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”.


A new novel by the Polish Nobel Prize winner for Literature Olga Tokarczuk (60) appeared in her home country on Wednesday.

The Polish title of the work, which has not yet been translated into German, can be read as “Empusion. Ein Horror of naturopathy” (Empuzjon. Horror przyrodoleczniczy). The novel is a deliberate reference to Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain”, as Tokarczuk told “Gazeta Wyborcza”.

The plot of the book begins in autumn 1913 in the spa town of Görbersdorf, today’s Sokolowsko in Lower Silesia. There 06 the world’s first tuberculosis sanatorium was founded. A student from Lviv, Mieczyslaw Wojnicz, comes to the picturesque building at the foot of the mountains hoping that the clinic’s innovative methods will work wonders for him. In the men’s boarding house, where he lives in a room, he meets, among others, the Catholic Longin Lukas from Königsberg, the socialist August August from Prague and Thilo von Hahn, a painting student from Berlin.

The men discuss – similar to Mann – the specter of war in Europe, the existence of demons and the problems of monarchy and democracy. The reality of the village where the sanatorium is located also offers topics of conversation. The supposed idyll offers the ideal backdrop for a horror film. On the very first day after Mieczyslaw’s arrival in Görbersdorf, the innkeeper’s wife committed suicide. In general, sudden deaths are common in the area, and not just because the tuberculosis patients at the clinic succumb to their disease. Every year mysterious accidents happen in the village. However, it is impossible to say which of the stories told by the patients is true and which is a rumour.

Tokarczuk often puts quotations from the time in her characters’ mouths, which reflect the patriarchal Culture of society beginning of 20. century. The author told the “Gazeta Wyborcza” that the title “Empusion” was a neologism she created from the Greek word “symposium”, which referred to a drinking bout with philosophical conversations, and “empusa” – in Greek mythology a female bogeyman.

Kampa Verlag, which publishes Olga Tokarczuk’s books in German translation, intends to publish the new novel in German next spring. Tokarczuk had 2018 retrospectively the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 which had not been awarded a year earlier due to a scandal at the Swedish Academy. (dpa)

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