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) was published 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. A 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 action of the book begins in the autumn of 1913 in the spa town of Görbersdorf, today’s Sokolowsko in Lower Silesia. The world’s first tuberculosis sanatorium was founded there in 1855. 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 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 rumor.
Tokarczuk often puts quotes from that time into the mouths of her characters, which reflect the patriarchal culture of society at the beginning of the 20th century. The author told 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. In 2019, Tokarczuk had retroactively received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, which had not been awarded a year earlier due to a scandal at the Swedish Academy.