Sunday, September 29, 2019

Poland: Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk

Flights is an extraordinary book, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. Is it a novel,or a collection of essays? It seems to be both at the same time, and more - a collection of meditations on migration, travel and the human body.

Apparently the Polish title comes from the name of an old sect who believed that by being constantly in motion they would outwit the devil. This belief surfaces in one of the stories, in which a Russian woman suddenly leaves her home for several days, spending her time travelling back and forth on trains, and encountering an apparent madwoman, who carries this belief about constant motion.

In other fragments, Chopin's sister carries his heart back to Poland, a seventeenth century Dutch anatomist discovers the Achilles tendon by dissecting his own amputated leg, and a retired professor gives lectures on Greek antiquities to cruise passengers.

Some of the stories seemed only obliquely related to the main theme, but somehow I found them always engrossing. And I was delighted to come across a few references to New Zealand!

Flights was translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft. The edition I read was published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2018 in New York.

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