“Flights,” the newly translated novel by Olga Tokarczuk, winner of this 12 months’s Worldwide Man Booker Prize, was first printed in Poland in 2008 as “Bieguni,” a phrase for a fictional group of Slavic wanderers who search salvation in fixed movement. “My power derives from motion — from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking,” the anonymous narrator tells us. As a baby, she’d watch boats, longing to turn into one herself.
It’s a busy, stunning vexation, this novel, a quiver stuffed with fables of pilgrims and pilgrimages, and the explanations — the hidden, the courageous, the foolhardy — we enterprise forth into the world. The narrator, coolly evasive in the way in which of Rachel Cusk’s heroine within the Define trilogy, relishes how journey and rising older permit her to turn into invisible. She will be able to turn into a “gargantuan ear,” a repository of narratives as her fascination with teratology — the examine of “the errors and blunders of creation” — takes her to specialised museums world wide, to ponder salamanders with two tails; oddly-shaped apples; a fetus, floating serenely in a jar, with its one head and two our bodies.
“Flights” itself is a cupboard of curiosities, of “moments, crumbs, fleeting configurations.” The e-book is transhistorical, transnational; it leaps backwards and forwards via time, throughout fiction and reality. Interspersed with the narrator’s journey is a constellation of discrete tales that share rhyming motifs and sure turns of phrase. These vignettes usually have the flavour of case research, with interlocking themes associated to the brittleness of the physique and the sophisticated work of mourning. (Tokarczuk as soon as labored as a scientific psychologist. She give up, she has stated, when she realized that she was “far more neurotic than my purchasers.”)
In a single episode, an obvious homage to Michelangelo Antonioni’s movie “L’Avventura,” a mom and little one go mysteriously lacking on an island. In one other, a lady returns to Poland after many years overseas, to assist her past love, now terminally unwell, die. Probably the most weird tales are taken from life. Chopin’s sister carries his coronary heart in a jar from Paris to Warsaw, to bury it at dwelling. The Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen discovers the Achilles’ tendon whereas dissecting his personal amputated leg. Probably the most harrowing story is of Angelo Soliman, kidnapped as a baby, probably from Nigeria, and brought to Austria as a kind of pet. He turned a courtier and was acquainted with Mozart. When he died, his physique was skinned, stuffed and displayed. Tokarczuk recreates the determined letters of Soliman’s daughter to the court docket, begging for a good burial for her father.