Flights

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Text Publishing Company, Aug 28, 2017 - Fiction - 416 pages
1 Review

Winner, 2018 Man Booker International Prize

‘One among a very few signal European novelists of the past quarter-century.’ Economist

Flights is a series of imaginative and mesmerising meditations on travel in all its forms, not only the philosophy and meaning of travel, but also fascinating anecdotes that take us out of ourselves, and back to ourselves.

Olga Tokarczuk brilliantly connects travel with spellbinding anecdotes about anatomy, about life and death, about the very nature of humankind. Thrilling characters and stories abound: the Russian sect who escape the devil by remaining constantly in motion; the anatomist Verheyen who writes letters to his amputated leg; the story of Chopin’s heart as it makes its journey from Paris to Warsaw, stored in a tightly sealed jar beneath his sister’s skirt; the quest of a Polish woman who emigrated to New Zealand as a teen but must now return in order to poison her terminally ill high-school sweetheart...

You will never read anything like this extraordinary, utterly original, mind-expanding book. Many consider Tokarczuk to be the most important Polish writer of her generation and Flights is one of those rare books that seems to conjure life itself out of the air.

Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2015 she received the Brueckepreis and the prestigious annual literary award from Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, as well as Poland’s highest literary honor, the Nike, and the Nike Readers’ Prize. Tokarczuk also received a Nike in 2009 for Flights. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into a dozen languages.

Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa.

‘A magnificent writer.’Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate 2015

‘Tokarczuk examines questions of travel in our increasingly interconnected and fast-moving world...Trained as a psychologist, Tokarczuk is interested in what connects the human soul and body. It is a leitmotif that, despite the apparent lack of a single plot, tightly weaves the text’s different strands—of fiction, memoir and essay—into a whole.’ Spectator

Flights is a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness, for the acceptance of “fluidity, mobility, illusoriness”.’ Guardian

‘Tokarczuk is one of Europe’s most daring and original writers, and this astonishing performance is her glittering, bravura entry in the literature of ideas...Flights is an international, mercurial, and always generous book, to be endlessly revisited. Like a glorious, charmingly impertinent travel companion, it reflects, challenges, and rewards.’ LA Review of Books

Flights itself is a cabinet of curiosities, of “moments, crumbs, fleeting configurations”...The individual vignettes are themselves sculpted, and anchoring...Each self-enclosed account is tightly conceived and elegantly modulated, the language balletic, unforced.’ New York Times

‘Tokarczuk is one of Europe’s most daring and original writers, and this astonishing performance is her glittering, bravura entry in the literature of ideas...Flights is an international, mercurial, and always generous book, to be endlessly revisited.’ LA Review of Books

‘Tokarczuk’s approach, like Melville’s, is encyclopedic and multiform. She turns nothing away...Her discerning eye shakes things up, in the same way that her book scrambles conventional forms.’ New Yorker

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Flights

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize, this novel from Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night) is an indisputable masterpiece of \"controlled psychosis,\" as one of the characters phrases it ... Read full review

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“I was unable to concentrate and became for some time a sort of gargantuan ear that listened to murmurs and echoes and whispers, far-off voices that filtered through the walls. But I never became a real writer. Life always managed to elude me. I’d only ever find its tracks, the skin it sloughed off. By the time I had determined its location, it had already gone somewhere else. And all I’d find were signs that it had been there, like those scrawlings on the trunks of trees in parks that merely mark a person’s passing presence.”
Flights is a novel by award-winning Polish author, Olga Tokarczuk. It was first published in 2007 as Beiguni. It seems to be a collection of anecdotes, observations, essays, opinion pieces, half-told tales retold, letters, and snippets that seem often to bear little or no relation to surrounding pieces. The topics are as diverse as sleeping on trains, educational wrappers on sanitary pads, airports, travel-size packs and messages on airline sick bags. There’s a rant about guidebooks. There are twelve maps or drawings (often without annotation or explanation of any sort), some of which are related to the text, others apparently random.
Several stories are told (sometimes in parts) interspersed throughout the novel: Chopin’s heart in a jar makes a journey to Warsaw; an ex-pat Polish biologist travels back home to grant an old friend’s dying wish; a Polish tourist’s wife and young son go missing on a Croatian island, and eventually reappear, only to disappear again; an ex-whaler hijacks his own ferry; Some stories appear complete, others lack resolution. The fact that the tongue is the body’s most powerful muscle is reiterated at least three times.
Apparently the theme is modern-day nomads, although this is not obvious. There does seem to be a lot of time devoted to the preservation of dead bodies and organs: Josephine Soliman makes several pleas to the Emperor of Austria for the return of her father’s skinned and stuffed body, for burial; wax model museums of body parts; Frederik Ruysch’s collection of preserved organ samples does not reach its destination intact; Filip Verheyen’s amputated leg, all feature.
The translation by Jennifer Croft seems flawless, and some of the prose is beautiful, but perhaps the power, or something of the essence of Tokarczuk’s writing is lost in translation and frankly, some parts are rather tedious (travel psychology in particular), especially as they lack resolution. Tokarczuk’s own quote describes this novel rather well: “In my writing, life would turn into incomplete stories, dreamlike tales, would show up from afar in odd dislocated panoramas, or in cross sections – and so it would be almost impossible to reach any conclusions as to the whole.”
This unsolicited copy from Text Publishing for an unbiased review.
 

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About the author (2017)

Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2015 she received the Brueckepreis and the prestigious annual literary award from Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, as well as Poland’s highest literary honor, the Nike, and the Nike Readers’ Prize. Tokarczuk also received a Nike in 2009 for Flights. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into a dozen languages.

Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, MacDowell and National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowships, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize for Translation. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University and an MFA from the University of Iowa.

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