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Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘The Books of Jacob’ is finally here. Now we know why the Nobel judges were so awestruck.

The challenges here — for author and reader — are considerable. After all, Tokarczuk isn’t revising our understanding of Mozart or presenting a fresh take on Catherine the Great. She’s excavating a shadowy figure who’s almost entirely unknown today … As daunting as it sounds, The Books of Jacob is miraculously entertaining and consistently fascinating. Despite his best efforts, Frank never mastered alchemy, but Tokarczuk certainly has. Her light irony, delightfully conveyed by Croft’s translation, infuses many of the sections. What’s more, it turns out that the story of an 18th-century grifter inflated by Messianic delusions is surprisingly relevant to our own era. The quality that makes The Books of Jacob so striking is its remarkable form. Tokarczuk has constructed her narrative as a collage of legends, letters, diary entries, rumors, hagiographies, political attacks and historical records … This is a story that grows simultaneously more detailed and more mysterious … Haunting and irresistible. Read more

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