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Olga Tokarczuk’s “Flights” Novel


Flights” is a fragmentary novel by the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.

It was originally published in Polish as “Bieguni” (Runners, 2007).

The main topic of the novel is the existential situation of a man on the journey, a literary monograph on the phenomenon of mobility, movement, anxiety of the traveler.

The title refers to the faction of Russian Old Believers, runners, who believed that the world is steeped in evil, which has more difficult access to people when it is in constant motion. To avoid evil, it is necessary to constantly move.

The book was translated into English by Jennifer Croft.

Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel is a “philosophical rumination on modern-day travel”. It is structured as a series of vignettes, some fictional, and some based on fact—among them that of the Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen’s discovery of the achilles tendon, and the story of Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, the sister of the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, transporting his heart back to Warsaw.

The novel won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018 marking the first time a Polish author received the award.

The chair of the judging panel, Lisa Appignanesi, described Tokarczuk as a “writer of wonderful wit, imagination, and literary panache”:

Our deliberations were hardly easy, since our shortlist was such a strong one. But I’m very pleased to say that we decided on the great Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk as our winner: Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In ‘Flights‘, brilliantly translated by Jennifer Croft, by a series of startling juxtapositions she flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament – where only plastic escapes mortality.

Tokarczuk and the translator Jennifer Croft shared the GB£50,000 (55.397 EUR)  prize.

Kirkus Reviews stated that the book was “a welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

The Guardian described it as “extraordinary” and “a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness”.

Tokarczuk’s writing in “Flights” has been compared to that of W. G. Sebald, Milan Kundera and László Krasznahorkai, among others.

In 2008, the Polish version of the book won the Nike Award, Poland’s highest literary award.

“Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft (Riverhead) is also on 2018 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Longlist.

Olga Tokarczuk ([tɔˈkart͡ʂuk]; born 29 January 1962) is one of the best worldwide contemporary writers.

She is a Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual who has been described as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation.

In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel “Flights” (translated by Jennifer Croft), becoming the first Polish writer to do so.

Olga Tokarczuk is particularly noted for the mythical tone of her writing.

She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw and published a collection of poems, several novels, as well as other books with shorter prose works.

“Flights” won the Nike Award, Poland’s top literary prize, in 2008.

Olga Tokarczuk attended the 2010 Edinburgh Book Festival to discuss her book “Primeval and Other Times” and other work.

With her novel “Księgi jakubowe” (The Books of Jacob), Tokarczuk won the Nike Award again in 2015.

In the same year, Tokarczuk received the German-Polish International Bridge Prize, a recognition extended to persons especially accomplished in the promotion of peace, democratic development and mutual understanding among the people and nations of Europe.


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