The Books of Jacob

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk is a highly unusual novel, a combination of history, fairytale, religious epic, and satire. The book is loosely based around the real-life figure Jacob Frank, a Jewish religious leader, a complicated, egomaniacal man who amassed thousands of followers by convincing them of his divinity as a messiah. The story mostly takes place in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, at the intersection of Europe and the Ottoman Empire, where Christianity, Judaism, and Islam mingled and clashed.  The Books of Jacob is not a quick and easy read and has been ambitiously likened to legendary epics like War and Peace, but the effort it asks from the reader is well repaid by a vivid and fantastically imagined book. Tokarczuk, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish author, is excellent at making characters come alive and mingling the real with the fantastical. This is an astonishingly accomplished book.