Reading this novel, one drifts along happily on Tokarczuk's flights of fancy, as her travels across space give way to journeys through history and deep into the psycheby Chris Moss / June 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99)
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk is known in her native country for her ambitious, experimental—and bestselling—novels. Her new book Flights, for which she was awarded Poland’s prestigious Nike award, makes a subversive incursion into that most apparently conventional of genres: travel writing.
Tokarczuk is less interested in conveying an exotic sense of place than in the effort of getting from A to B, devoting considerable attention to the banalities of travel: airports, tickets, sick bags, borders, bilingual dictionaries and guidebooks. She says, with her tongue firmly in her cheek, that guidebooks “have conclusively ruined the greater part of the planet.” In what way? “Describing is destroying.”
The fragmentary form of the book disrupts any notion of travel as a flowing, linear experience. Instead of chapters we are offered short essays, meditations and anecdotes, with titles that only occasionally suggest that the work is supposed to be a travelogue: “Among the Maori,” “Compatriots,” “Media Presenters,” “Letters to the Amputated Leg.”
Her playfulness and irony are nicely provocative—especially since conventional travel writing is usually so very earnest. Yet Flights is also a profound meditation on time, mythology, the self and human anatomy. Tokarczuk cannot resist turning her window-seat wondering into extended fictional stories.
In the end, 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.