Flights, a novel about travel in the twenty-first century and human anatomy, is Olga Tokarczuk’s most ambitious to date. It interweaves travel narratives and reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration. From the seventeenth century, we have the story of the Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen, who dissected and drew pictures of his own amputated leg. From the eighteenth century, we have the story of a North African-born slave turned Austrian courtier stuffed and put on display after his death. In the nineteenth century, we follow Chopin’s heart as it makes the covert journey from Paris to Warsaw. In the present we have the trials of a wife accompanying her much older husband as he teaches a course on a cruise ship in the Greek islands, and the harrowing story of a young husband whose wife and child mysteriously vanish on a holiday on a Croatian island. With her signature grace and insight, Olga Tokarczuk guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and towards the core of the very nature of humankind.
‘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… Much of the pleasure of reading Flights comes from the essay clusters embedded between sections of narratives… The cascades of concise interstitial passages are often satisfying riffs on time and space, bodies and language, repetition and uniqueness… Jennifer Croft’s translation is exceptionally adventurous…she can give the impression, not of passing on meanings long after the event, but of being the present at the moment when language reached out to thought.’ — Adam Mars-Jones, London Review of Books
‘Olga Tokarczuk is a household name in Poland and one of Europe’s major humanist writers, working here in the continental tradition of the “thinking” or essayistic novel. Flights has echoes of WG Sebald, Milan Kundera, Danilo Kiš and Dubravka Ugrešić, but Tokarzcuk inhabits a rebellious, playful register very much her own. … Flights is a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness, for the acceptance of “fluidity, mobility, illusoriness”. After all, Tokarczuk reminds us, “Barbarians don’t travel. They simply go to destinations or conduct raids.” Hotels on the continent would do well to have a copy of Flights on the bedside table. I can think of no better travel companion in these turbulent, fanatical times.’
— Kapka Kassabova, Guardian
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 honour, the Nike and the Nike Readers’ Prize. Tokarczuk also received a Nike in 2009 for Flights. She is the author of eight novel, two short story collections and has been translated into a dozen languages.
Jennifer Croft is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize, and her translations from Polish, Spanish, and Ukrainian have appeared in the New York Times, n+1, Electric Literature, The New Republic, BOMB, Guernica, and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She is a founding editor of The Buenos Aires Review.
Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft
2017, Fitzcarraldo Editions