House of Day, House of Night

Olga Tokarczuk
House of Day, House of Night
  • RUTA
    Wałbrzych 1999
    140 x 205
    280 pages
    ISBN: 83-900281-9-0

In her fourth novel, Olga Tokarczuk recounts stories and dreams from the hilly region of Nowa Ruda (formerly Neurode) on the Polish-Czech border. The images, memoirs and dreams date from various epochs: the medieval period, the eighteenth century, the present. Only space and nature remain unchanged; people are the fleeting dream of the landscape. The narrator's neighbor is a mythical wig-maker named Marta, who spins such local legends as the apocryphal story of Saint Kummernis, who had the face of Christ and died a marytyr's death, or the German Franz Frost, who built the house that the narrator lives in. The interwoven tales also speak of escapes into alcohol or death in the face of approaching armies.

"Dream House" (Polityka)

The book was nominated for the 1999 NIKE prize.


The Dream

The first night, I had an immobile dream. I dreamed that I was pure looking, pure vision, and that I had neither a body nor a name. I am suspended high above the valley at some undefined point from which I can see everything, or almost everything. I move by looking, but I stay in place. It is rather the visible world that responds to me when I look at it. It moves nearer and closer so that I can see everything at once or only the most particular details. So I can see the valley with a house standing in it, in the very middle of it, but it is not my house or my valley. Nothing belongs to me. I do not even belong to myself, and nothing like me even exists. I can see the circular line of the horizon that surrounds the valley on all sides. I can see an agitated, turgid brook flowing between the hills. I can see trees grown into the earth with powerful legs, like one-legged, motionless animals. This immobility that I am seeing is apparent. If I only want to, I can penetrate beyond appearances. Then I see moving streams of water and sap beneath the bark of the tree, circulating and recirculating, up and down. Under the roof of the house, I can see the bodies of sleeping people. Their motionlessness, too, is apparent -hearts are beating delicately inside them, and the blood is flowing. Not even their dreams are real, because this is something else that I can see: what those dreams are - pulsating fragments of images. None of these sleeping bodies is any closer to me or farther from me than any other. I am simply looking at them, and in their baffling sleeping thoughts, I see my self. That is when I discover a strange truth. Looking, without reflection, without any judgements, without feeling, is what I am. And I immediately discover something else: I can also look through time, as if I were a cursor on a computer screen that moves by itself, or that simply does not know anything about the existence of the hand that makes it move. I dream this way, it seems, for an infinitely long time. There is no before or after, nor do I expect anything new, for there is nothing that I can acquire or lose. The night will never end. Nothing happens. Not even time changes what I see. I look without seeing anything new, or forgetting anything that I have seen.

Translated by William Brand