Named a most anticipated book of 2022 by The Washington Post, Oprah Daily, Entertainment Weekly, Lit Hub, and AV Club
“Olga Tokarczuk is one of our greatest living fiction writers. . . This could well be a decade-defining book akin to Bolaño’s 2666.” –AV Club
“Sophisticated and ribald and brimming with folk wit. . . The comedy in this novel blends, as it does in life, with genuine tragedy.” –Dwight Garner, The New York Times
The Nobel Prize–winner’s richest, most sweeping and ambitious novel yet follows the comet-like rise and fall of a mysterious, messianic religious leader as he blazes his way across eighteenth-century Europe.
In the mid-eighteenth century, as new ideas—and a new unrest—begin to sweep the Continent, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Before long, he has changed not only his name but his persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following. In the decade to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires with throngs of disciples in his thrall as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumors of his sect’s secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs. The story of Frank—a real historical figure around whom mystery and controversy swirl to this day—is the perfect canvas for the genius and unparalleled reach of Olga Tokarczuk. Narrated through the perspectives of his contemporaries—those who revere him, those who revile him, the friend who betrays him, the lone woman who sees him for what he is—The Books of Jacob captures a world on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence.
In a nod to books written in Hebrew, The Books of Jacob is paginated in reverse, beginning on p. 955 and ending on p. 1 – but read traditionally, front cover to back.
Jacob Joseph Frank (Hebrew: יעקב פרנק; Polish: Jakub Józef Frank; born Jakub Lejbowicz; 1726 – December 10, 1791) was an 18th-century Polish-Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676) and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The Jewish authorities in Poland excommunicated Frank and his followers due to his heretical doctrines that included deification of himself as a part of a trinity and other controversial concepts such as neo-Carpocratian “purification through transgression”.
Frank arguably created a new denomination of Judaism, now referred to as Frankism, which incorporated some aspects of Christianity into Judaism. The development of Frankism was one of the consequences of the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi. This religious mysticism followed socioeconomic changes among the Jews of Poland, Lithuania and Ruthenia.