By Olga Tokarczuk
Translated by Jennifer Croft
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions (2017)
Flights is a novel about travel in the 21st century and human anatomy. From the 17th century, we have the story of the real Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen, who dissected and drew pictures of his own amputated leg, discovering in so doing the Achilles tendon. From the 18th century, we have the story of a North African-born slave turned Austrian courtier stuffed and put on display after his death in spite of his daughter’s ever more desperate protests, as well as the story of Chopin’s heart as it makes the covert journey from Paris to Warsaw, stored in a tightly sealed jar beneath his sister’s skirt. From the present we have the trials and tribulations of a wife accompanying her much older professor husband as he teaches a course on a cruise ship in the Greek islands, the quest of a Polish woman who emigrated to New Zealand as a teenager but must now return to Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, and the slow descent into madness of a young husband whose wife and child mysteriously vanished on a vacation on a Croatian island and then appeared again with no explanation.
Through these narratives, interspersed with short bursts of analysis and digressions on topics ranging from travel-sized cosmetics to the Maori, Flights guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and towards the core of the very nature of humankind.
The Financial Times called Flights ‘A philosophical tale for our frantic times’. Adam Mars-Jones wrote of it in the London Review of Books: ‘Flights could almost be an inventory of the ways narrative can serve a writer short of, and beyond, telling a story. The book’s prose is a lucid medium in which narrative crystals grow to an ideal size, independent structures not disturbing the balance of the whole.’
The winner was announced by Lisa Appignanesi OBE at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 22 May, 2018.
It was selected from 108 submissions by a panel of five judges, chaired by Lisa Appignanesi OBE, author and cultural commentator, and consisting of: Michael Hofmann, poet, reviewer and translator from German; Hari Kunzru, author of five novels including The Impressionist and White Tears; Tim Martin, journalist and literary critic, and Helen Oyeyemi, author of novels, plays and short stories including The Icarus Girl.
Lisa Appignanesi comments:
‘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.’
Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments:
‘Along with my colleagues at Man Group, I would like to congratulate Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft, as well as each of the shortlisted authors and translators. As a firm, we welcome and encourage diversity and difference across our business. The Man Booker International Prize plays an important role in celebrating extraordinary fiction in translation, and we are proud to support the prize as it continues to bring the breadth and depth of global literary talent to the attention of readers worldwide.’
Olga Tokarczuk is a multiple award winner and bestseller in Poland whose work is now gaining recognition in the English-speaking world. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw, and her interest in Jung continues to influence her work. Her first book, a collection of poems, was published in 1989. She is the author of eight novels and two short-story collections. Alongside her writing she co-hosts a boutique literary festival near her home in Lower Silesia in southern Poland.
Jennifer Croft translates from Polish, Spanish and Ukrainian, having studied for an MFA in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa and lived in Argentina and Poland. Now resident in Los Angeles, she is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.
The Man Booker International Prize and the Man Booker Prize for Fiction together reward the best books from around the globe that are published in the UK and are available in English.
The prize is sponsored by Man Group, an active investment management firm that also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest in contemporary literature.
Tokarczuk's crime novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead is coming out in the UK this autumn translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Her most recent novel The Books of Jacob, which brought Tokarczuk the second Nike Prize in 2015, is planned to appear in 2020 in Jennifer Croft's translation. Both are published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.