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Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Flights (original 2007; edition 2018)

by Olga Tokarczuk (Author), Jennifer Croft (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3571146,894 (3.87)14
Authors:Olga Tokarczuk (Author)
Other authors:Jennifer Croft (Translator)
Info:Riverhead Books (2018), Edition: 1st Edition, 416 pages
Collections:Read, Read but unowned, Attempted to read but quit
Tags:library book, fiction, short stories, essays, attempted, read, 2019, travel, traveling

Work details

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (2007)

  1. 00
    Walking Through Brambles: A Narrative of Circumspection by G W Latimer (MM_Jones)
    MM_Jones: Both are nonlinear works of fiction. One won the Man Booker International prize, the other by an unknown author.

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English (10)  German (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Once again I find myself bogged down in trying to makes sense of a nonlinear work of fiction. Perhaps this type of writing is the newest version of the "novel", but I find I gravitate to either facts or stories. The author says in an interview that she had all the bits & pieces on the floor and settled upon the perfect arrangement, all seemed rather random to me. ( )
  MM_Jones | May 20, 2019 |
‘’Each of my pilgrimages aims at some other pilgrim. In this case the pilgrim is in pieces, broken down.’’

This might very well be the first time that I have no clear ‘’picture’’ in my head regarding this review. Flights is the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize and it is one of those cases where the verb ‘’like’’ and its negative form can’t retain any significant meaning. So be patient with me while I am trying to -clumsily- explain the impact Flights had on me.

In a magnificent translation by Jennifer Croft, Flights is a modern Odyssey of the human being amidst eternal journeys from country to country but, most importantly, within ourselves. Anatomy and transportation are combined to demonstrate the continuous search, the change, the fight for self-discovery. Individual stories, taking place over different eras, born out of curiosity and despair. Tokarczuk’s work is a hymn to human emotions, to independence, to unfulfilled wishes.

‘’He said that death marks places like a dog marking its territory.’’

Flights is a novel featuring characteristics of essays, biography and non-fiction, where the voice of the writer reflects the feelings and thoughts of characters in a distant and, at times, clinically sharp way. Tokarczuk’s writing brings to mind great authors of Balkan and East European Literature. I found similarities to Daša Drndic and Dubravka Ugrešic although, in my opinion, Tokarczuk lacks the darkness and impact of the two Croatian writers. She focuses on issues that reflect the strangest aspects of traveling and searching for the destination that would mean the end of a fulfilling journey. Or not. What happens when you don’t want to reach the end? When you feel that you can’t settle, that you don’t need a permanent basis?

‘’The apartment doesn’t understand what’s happened. The apartment thinks its owner has died.’’

There is a plethora of information in this beautiful book. Tokarczuk refers to the Recurrent Detoxification Syndrome, the need of the human mind to return to certain images no matter how disturbing or repulsive they may be. It’s what makes us freeze, unable to take our eyes off images that make our stomach turn. Another interesting point has to do with the apartment that is left behind, locked and dark, when we depart for a journey, leaving our shelter silent and lifeless. And what about the images that come to mind at the sound of a country’s name? What do we recall when we think of China, Russia, Spain, Lithuania, Serbia, Ireland and every other country of our planet? Each one of us forms a unique, personal picture based on experience, education and various cultural influences.

The richness and power of Flights lie in the characters and their journeys. I was confused, moved and horrified by the story of Kunicki, a Polish businessman, whose wife and son disappear for three days and for unknown reasons while vacationing in a Croatian island. The story of a Russian woman, a mother in the most difficult position imaginable, who tries to relieve the pain of people who have no destination anymore made me think of loneliness and the horrible feeling that you’re slowly drifting away when you aren’t strong enough to fight. Nebojša’s thoughts on what war leaves behind and the moving journey of Chopin’s heart from Paris to Warsaw are outstanding moments.

I don’t particularly agree with a few of the writer’s views on people and God. They seemed too detached, almost nihilistic, but this is of little importance. Flights should be an undisputed reading choice, a book that can be read while on a journey, in an airport while the night is falling, in a hotel room overlooking the distant glimpses of the city lights. And if you don’t travel, do not worry. Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft are here to be your powerful guides.

‘’I’m a few years old, I’m sitting on the window sill, and I’m looking out onto the chilled courtyard. The lights in the school’s kitchen are extinguished; everyone has left. All the doors are closed, hatched down, blinds lowered. I’d like to leave, but there’s nowhere to go. My own presence is the only thing with a distinct outline now, an outline that quivers and undulates, and in so doing, hurts. And all of a sudden I know: there’s nothing anyone can do now, here I am.’’

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Apr 21, 2019 |
Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft.

Motion! Keep moving - that’s the very explicit message in Flights, Olga Tokarczuk’s fascinating and highly praised 2007 novel. Stand still and The Man will co-opt you, pin you down like an insect in a case, and sentence you to servitude in hell. Keep moving and you have half a chance at wisdom, at beauty, at happiness. In 2018, this English translation won the Man Booker International Prize. The book deserves it, beyond doubt.

Flights consists of more than a hundred segments of widely varying lengths. The novel’s framework slowly becomes clear, and while only a few narrative threads recur to be updated, these are few and set out quite obliquely. Ms. Tokarczuk sets out for our consideration 17th Century practices in preserving corpses, with brilliant scenes of the busy anatomists’ operating room theaters. In an early thematic statement, the author asks, isn’t it wrong that we die? Shouldn’t we be able to preserve our bodies in perpetuity? The scenes set in 17th Century Holland bring us up close and personal to the first scientists to preserve flesh in any effective way. We return to this motif several times throughout the book, able to follow modernizations in technique along the way.

Other segments contain observations of various details and impressions of 21st Century travel: how people behave on planes; a certain universality of hotel rooms; a nervous note written on the bottom of an air sickness bag years ago; the design of airports. I don’t know if it’s actually the case in airports around the world, but in Flights, specialists - therapists and advanced students - give lectures in airport hallways about the psychology of travel. Mostly these lectures are only spottily attended or heeded - we and our author-guide are included in the crowd that doesn’t pay attention.

But: just past halfway through the narrative we meet Annushka, a disaffected housewife in Moscow. With a hopeless and restricting family life, she flees her predicament during her mother-in-law’s weekly visit. She takes to riding Moscow’s metro, finding a secluded corner to sleep in when the trains shut down for the night. A few days into this life, she encounters a mysterious woman, a vagrant clothed in multiple layers, even her face is hidden. She stands in a station hollering invective at whomever passes. Most of it is unintelligible, but Annushka eventually approaches her and, after spooking her at first, engages her in a halting conversation, fueled by the meals Annushka buys for her.

She learns the woman’s name is Galena, and Galena lives by the code of keeping moving. In her addled, outcast way, Galena serves as the Oracle of this story. At page 258 et seq, in a section called “What the Shrouded Runaway Was Saying,” the enterprising author spells out one main theme of the novel. In it we learn that the body in motion is holy and cannot be pinned down to an accounted-for, prefabricated, predestined life. If you keep moving, you will be saved from the inhuman government’s cataloging, its endless need for strict order and adherence, birth to the grave. A quote from this poetic exhortation:

“So go, away, walk, run, take flight, because the second you forget and stand still, his massive hands will seize you and turn you into a puppet, you’ll be enveloped in his breath, stinking of smoke and fumes and the big trash dumps outside town. He will turn your brightly colored soul into a tiny flat one, cut out of paper, of newspaper, and he will threaten you with fire, disease, and war, he will scare you so you lose your peace of mind and cease to sleep.”

We also read of a family whose arc exists in multiple segments, far apart in the book. While on vacation on the Adriatic, the man’s wife disappears with their small son for several days. This disappearance lasts a few days, but the man feels he cannot get a straight answer from his wife about it. He hounds her for months with his single-minded questions until finally she flies for good and takes her son with her. So, one cannot or should not become too literal in looking for reasons for flight. They are obvious and many, but sometimes unnamable. Whatever the reasons for the woman’s first sojourn away from her husband, eventually he drove her off permanently.

An unusual reading experience, this. We go along section by section, anticipating that a narrative will emerge, but we must content ourselves with a very slow and oblique unfolding. The main body of the story keeps us definitely in the present day: the rhythms and sights and smells and emotions of modern travel are all too familiar. Longer segments pop vividly up, with their more orthodox story lines, like advances in the preservation of human flesh, and two separate stories of women running from their homes and their oppressive family situations.

By and by, the images and the lessons gel into clarity: flight is sacred, natural, and necessary. The seeming randomness in the segments supports the thesis: the flesh of humans who have been preserved for display or exemplifies the pinning-down of people stationary in perpetuity. The more orthodox stories show people on the move for reasons of self-preservation, and the first-person narrator herself is constantly traveling around the world. It’s a wide-ranging novel, appropriately, and achieves its overarching thesis beautifully. Take it up and enjoy it. It’s unique, compelling, a deserving prize winner. ( )
  LukeS | Apr 19, 2019 |
This is a strange mix of chapters which don't always have an obvious connection. The strangest parts are the true stories. It's quite dense and some bits are more enjoyable than others, it's also a little frustrating not knowing which bits you will come back to for a resolution, and which bits will just fade out. But as a whole I liked it. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Mar 17, 2019 |
Olga Tokarczuk describes Flights (original Polish title 'Bieguni', after a religious sect who believed that the only way to escape the power of the Antichrist was to avoid stability) as a 'constellation novel', in which a myriad of seemingly un- or only tangentially related stories, essays and sketches are cast into orbit, allowing the reader’s imagination to form them into meaningful shapes.
A magnificent novel. ( )
  PaulDalton | Dec 29, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Olga Tokarczukprimary authorall editionscalculated
Croft, JenniferTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinsky, EstherTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist discovers the Achilles tendon by dissecting his own amputated leg. Chopin's heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time. Where are you from? Where are you coming in from? Where are you going? we call to the traveler. Enchanting, unsettling, and wholly original, Flights is a master storyteller's answer.

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