In 2018, Olga Tokarczuk became the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize for her adult novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo). She was also awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. Today we welcome back Mia Spangenberg to tell us about Tokarczuk’s first book for younger readers: The Lost Soul with illustrations by Joanna Concejo and translated from Polish [Poland] by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, published by Seven Stories Press…
Wow, what a wondrous book. That’s the first thought I had as I began leafing through The Lost Soul. The first time I did so quickly, because I’d quite honestly never seen a book quite like this before, and I couldn’t wait to see what each new page would bring. But upon reaching the end, I started again at the beginning, because of course, that is what this book invites you to do: to slow down and contemplate what makes a rich, full life.
The story is quite simple. It is about a man named John who works very hard but loses touch with his soul. Eventually he even forgets his name, and he consults a doctor who tells him he must find a place to sit quietly and wait for his soul to find him again. And so he decides to settle in a cottage in the countryside to wait. As he waits, subtle colors of yellow and green enter the pages, lined like graph paper, and the plants he collects on his kitchen table grow larger and more vibrant. Finally his soul appears, who illustrator Joanna Concejo brilliantly personifies as a small child. In the final full color spread, we’re given a bird’s eye view of the cottage below. Red-orange geraniums float above the cottage. There’s a bird on a pond, and the clothes are out on the line, close to a garden table and chairs. The scene radiates peace and care – now John is careful to attend to his soul and to do things slowly so his soul can always keep up.
As Olga Tokarczuk says herself, it is the pictures that carry the story, and Conjeco’s arresting illustrations provide an endless source of contemplation. Some of the illustrations are of envelopes and old photos creased at the edges, inviting you to wonder about the stories they contain, or to pick up an old photo album of your own to share with a family member. There are also illustrations of people looking lonely and lost: John sitting alone at a café with a pensive waitress holding a cup and saucer in the foreground, people trudging in the snow, leaving only a single track of footprints behind them. And there is John’s lost soul, looking for him in the places he’s once frequented.
The search for one’s soul and for connection is at once a universal and primeval theme, and reviews often mention how the book appeals to readers of all ages – but this book certainly also invites reading and sharing with someone else. As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, this book is a wonderful way to talk about connection while strengthening your own bond, too.