The figurative language of Olga Tokarczuk…

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes from Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk…

Named as the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, Polish writer and activist Olga Tokarczuk (pictured above) has been described in Poland as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation.

I had never before heard of her, but my delightful copy editor recommended her 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. (While 2009 is the Polish publication date, the book was not available in English translation until 2019.)

An exceptionally dark — and funny — literary murder mystery, this novel won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it certainly tickled my funny bone. And I enjoyed Tokarczuk’s tremendous skill with figurative language.

Here are my favourite examples:

  • Every time he moved, snow fell from him like icing sugar from pastry ribbons.
  • Dawn was breaking, and idle snowflakes were gradually starting to fill the nothingness. They were falling slowly, weaving their way through the air and spinning on their own axis like feathers.
  • Here the sky hangs over us dark and low, like a dirty screen, on which the clouds are fighting fierce battles.
  • And the flowers in his garden are neat and tidy, standing straightly and slender, as if they’d been to the gym.
  • During my oration his large bald head gradually reddened from the back of his neck to the top of his nose, and visible knots of dilated blood vessels appeared on his cheeks, like an unusual army tattoo.
  • The air had turned blue, sharp as a razor.
  • We sang like that for about an hour, the same thing over and over, until the words ceased to have any meaning, as if they were pebbles in the sea, tossed eternally by the waves, until they were round and as alike as two grains of sand.
  • I see us moving about blindly in eternal Gloom, like May bugs trapped in a box by a cruel child.
  • Low, dark clouds had been scudding across the sky all day, and now, late in the evening, they were rubbing their web bellies against the hills.
  • It was raining, and in the brilliant light the raindrops became long silver threads, like angel hair on a Christmas tree.
  • Not all the votive candles at the cemeteries had burned out yet, and through the wire fence I could see the colored lights flickering in the daytime, as if with these feeble little flames people were trying to assist the Sun.
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