A Polish novel for wanderers has won the UK’s biggest prize for translated books

Wandering but not lost. (Olga Tokarczuk, author of “Flights” is on the left.)
Wandering but not lost. (Olga Tokarczuk, author of “Flights” is on the left.)
Image: Courtesy Man Group
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Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft, has won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize. The £50,000 award (around $67,000) goes to a book translated into English, and is split equally between writer and translator.

Flights is a meditation about wandering, told through interwoven fragments, with its characters in constant transit. They haunt duty-free shops, calculate the heights of trees they see out of airplane windows, and suffer the ageism of hostels.

“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,” says British writer Lisa Appignanesi, one of the prize judges, in a release.

Tokarczuk is the first Polish winner since the prize was founded in 2005. She’s the author of eight novels and is a household name in Poland, where she’s won two Nikes, the country’s major literary prize. She’s been the subject of online vitriol for comments she made in 2015, after she received one of the Nikes:

We have come up with this history of Poland as an open, tolerant country, as a country uncontaminated by any issues with its minorities. Yet we committed horrendous acts as colonizers, as a national majority that suppressed the minority, as slave-owners and as the murderers of Jews.

Flights is published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions and is forthcoming in the US this August, from Riverhead.