Olga Tokarczuk

Translated by Jennifer Croft

Published 17 May 2017, French paperback with flaps, 424 pages | Paperback, 432 pages
Winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize

Read preview

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.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2018 | Guardian Best Books of the Year 2017 | Financial Times Summer Books 2017

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

‘A writer on the level of W. G. Sebald.’ 
— Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News

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

Flights works like a dream does: with fragmentary trails that add up to a delightful reimagining of the novel itself.’
— Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

‘[T]he best novel I’ve read in years is Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (trans. Jennifer Croft): Most great writers build a novel as one would a beautiful house, brick by brick, wall by wall, from the ground up. Or using another metaphor, a writer gathers her yarn, and with good needles and structure, knits a wonderful sweater or scarf. I tend to prefer novels where a writer weaves her threads this way and that, above and below, inside outside, and ends up with a carpet. Flights is such a novel.’
Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman

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 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 Tokarczuk 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

‘It’s a busy, beautiful vexation, this novel, a quiver full of fables of pilgrims and pilgrimages, and the reasons – the hidden, the brave, the foolhardy – we venture forth into the world…. The book is transhistorical, transnational; it leaps back and forth through time, across fiction and fact. Interspersed with the narrator’s journey is a constellation of discrete stories that share rhyming motifs and certain turns of phrase…. In Jennifer Croft’s assured translation, each self-enclosed account is tightly conceived and elegantly modulated, the language balletic, unforced.’
— Parul Sehgal, 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…. A select few novels possess the wonder of music, and this is one of them. No two readers will experience it exactly the same way. 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.’
Eileen Battersby, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘An ambitious work … about travel (broadly conceived) that intermingles fact and fiction and takes theme, not narrative, as its guiding star…. For those with a taste for chaos, there are many rewards. This is a book about rootlessness in the grandest sense – which is to say it is a book about mortality.’
Amanda DeMarco, Times Literary Supplement

‘An indisputable masterpiece of “controlled psychosis” … Punctuated by maps and figures, the discursive novel is reminiscent of the work of Sebald. The threads ultimately converge in a remarkable way, making this an extraordinary accomplishment.’
— Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

‘A profound meditation on time, mythology, the self and human anatomy … We drift along happily on her flights of fancy, as her travels across space give way to journeys through history and deep into the psyche. Jennifer Croft’s bump-free translation only adds to the reader’s pleasure.’
Chris Moss, Prospect Magazine

‘In the vein of W. G. Sebald, Flights knits together snippets of fiction, narrative and reflection to meditate on human anatomy and the meaning of travel: this is a delicate, ingenious book that is constantly making new connections.’
Justine Jordan, Guardian

‘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. Some chapters are more akin to traditional travel notes: sketches of airport encounters, fellow travellers’ “confessions of whole lifetimes”, and other things people often jot down when on a journey. There are also beautiful set pieces, occasionally split into recurring threads.’
Anna Aslanyan, Spectator

‘The book is a personal, yet universal mythology of travel, a cabinet of curiosities, a box with old tickets, museum leaflets, shells and beer mats collected on the way. What we can touch, whether it is our own body, someone else’s hand in spontaneous dance, a crumbled leaf from a particularly important tree – all those things are imbued with meaning that, in Tokarczuk’s telling, becomes greater than the grand narratives history and politics have been feeding us.’
— Marta Dziurosz, Glasgow Review of Books

‘Tokarczuk is known in Poland for her mythical prose style, and Jennifer Croft, to her immense credit, has beautifully translated this quality into English: Flights is filled with liquid, mellifluous prose.’
— Alexandra d’Abbadie, London Magazine

‘This dazzling novel of fragments makes a passionate plea for connectedness through stories that somersault through time and space.’

‘A philosophical tale for our frantic times…’
Ken Kalfus, Financial Times

‘It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel – through space and also through time – and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style … Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor …  A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.’
 — Kirkus

‘Reading Flights is like finally hearing from a weird old best friend you lost touch with years ago and assumed was gone forever because people that amazing and inventive just don’t last. Wrong – they were off rediscovering the world on your behalf, just as Olga Tokarczuk does.’
— Toby Litt, author of Hospital

‘I have always considered her a person of great literary abilities. With Flights I have my proof. This is one of the most important Polish books I have read for years.’
— Jerzy Sosnowski

‘Enchanting, unsettling, and wholly original, Flights is a master storyteller’s answer.’
— Dhaka Tribune

‘Beautifully disorienting and complex, Flights is a novel meant to challenge our perception of modernity and antiquity. Tokarczuk’s talented prose grabs readers from the first page and does not release them until the novel’s conclusion, by which point she has gifted them a pair of wings to fly above the constructs that bog down their consciousness.’
— Mason Rowlee, Fordham Ram

Financial Times interview with Olga Tokarczuk

Guardian interview with Olga Tokarczuk

Tank interview with Olga Tokarczuk

Versepolis interview Olga Tokarczuk

Words Without Borders interview Jennifer Croft

Olga Tokarczuk is the author of nine novels, three short story collections and has been translated into more than fifty languages. Her novel Flights won the 2018 International Booker Prize, in Jennifer Croft’s translation. She is the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Empusium is her fourth novel to appear in English with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

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.