Press release 2018 Jan Michalski Prize

Montricher, Wednesday, 21st November

The 2018 Jan Michalski Prize was awarded to Olga Tokarczuk for her novel The Books of Jacob (Księgi Jakubowe, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2014) translated from Polish by Maryla Laurent and published in French by Noir sur Blanc entitled Les livres de Jakób.

The jury praised: “a work of immense erudition with a powerful epic sweep. The story of Jacob Frank, a fascinating character who actually existed, comes to life through the author’s sharp and poetic pen. He was the founder of a sect of Jewish heretics whose tribulations we follow through two hundred years of Polish history. The thematic richness is impressive. The story of the Frankists, rendered through a series of mythic narratives, is transformed into a universal epic tale of the struggle against rigid thinking, either religious or philosophical, that ostracize and enslave people. An extensive and prolific work that warns against our inability to embrace an environment complex in its diversity, fueling a fanatical sectarianism which ends in disaster. The Books of Jacob, by telling the past with a dazzling virtuosity, helps us to better understand the world in which we live.”

The award ceremony will take place on Wednesday, 21st November at 11am at the Jan Michalski Foundation for Literature in Montricher, in Switzerland.  

Born in 1962 in Sulechów in Poland, Olga Tokarczuk graduated from the University of Warsaw with a degree in psychology and has been writing since 1997. The author of short stories, essays, articles and a rich array of novels, she has been playing an important role in Polish literature: her texts have been adapted to screen and theatre, and awarded prizes, including the most important prize in Poland, Nike, which Olga Tokarczuk won twice. Her books are translated into twenty five languages, and won many prestigious international prizes, including the Man Booker International in 2018 for Flights.

Her books in English include: House of Day, House of Night (Granta, 2002), Primeval and Other Times (Twisted Spoon Press, 2010), Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions 2018).

The Books of Jacob, the winner of today’s Jan Michalski Prize, has already been granted The Nike Prize and the Prix Transfuge 2018 for the best European novel. This vast novel traverses Enlightment Europe, seven frontiers and five languages to tell the extraordinary and true story of Jakób Frank. A mystic, politician, a founder of an eccentric sect, a Jew converted to Islam and then to Christianity, a libertine, outlaw, magician, alternately poor and wealthy, he was a heretic for some and a messiah for others. Conjuring this extraordinary life through the eyes of a myriad of characters, The Books of Jacob echo as much the wonders of everyday life as the tragedies of time and the universal motives of otherness, oppression, emancipation, and freedom, in a kaleidoscopic structure, orchestrated with romance and erudition.

The laureate of the 2018 Jan Michalski Prize, Olga Tokarczuk, will receive the sum of 50,000 Swiss francs as well as a work of art especially chosen for her:

The artist’s book: L’Exode. Super flumina Babylonis (extract)
from Benjamin Fondane,
with Albert Woda’s original etchings, and Frank Lalous’ calligraphy
Editions de l’eau, 1997