Polish author wins Man Booker International Prize

Writer Olga Tokarczuk (left) shares the $67,000 prize money with translator Jennifer Croft (far left) for their work together on Flights.
Writer Olga Tokarczuk (right) shares the $67,000 prize money with translator Jennifer Croft for their work together on Flights.PHOTO: JENNIFER CROFT/ INSTAGRAM

LONDON • Flights, a philosophical rumination on modern-day travel and the human body by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, won the Man Booker International Prize for works of translated fiction on Tuesday.

Tokarczuk shared the prize of £50,000 (S$67,000) with the book's English-language translator, Jennifer Croft.

Flights recounts stories including the 19th-century tale of the dead Chopin's heart, accompanied on a covert journey from Paris back to Warsaw by his sister after his death.

The Man Booker International Prize is awarded by the same organisation that gives the Man Booker Prize for fiction. It is for a single work of fiction that has been translated into English and published in Britain in the past year.

Tokarczuk, 56, was born in Poland. In 2008, she won the Nike Award, Poland's highest literary accolade, for Flights. She won the award again in 2015 for The Books Of Jacob, a novel about the 18th-century Polish-Jewish religious leader, Jacob Frank.

In a television interview at the time, she said Poland liked to think of itself as an "open, tolerant country", but would not acknowledge its poor historical treatment of Jews and other minority groups.

Tokarczuk's statement drew ire from nationalist critics and she received death threats.

In a review of Flights in The Guardian, author and poet Kapka Kassabova said: "It is a novel of intuitions as much as ideas, a cacophony of voices and stories seemingly unconnected across time and space, which meander between the profound and the facetious, the mysterious and the ordinary, and whose true register remains one of glorious ambiguity."

The book had echoes of writers W.G. Sebald and Milan Kundera, she added, but Tokarczuk "inhabits a rebellious, playful register very much her own".

Other books on the shortlist for this year's prize included French author Virginie Despentes' Vernon Subutex 1; South Korean author Han Kang's The White Book; Hungarian author Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The World Goes On; Spanish author Antonio Munoz Molina's Like A Fading Shadow; and Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein In Baghdad.

Last year's prize was awarded to Israeli author David Grossman for his novel, A Horse Walks Into A Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen.

"Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache," writer Lisa Appignanesi, who led the judging panel, said in a statement.

In Flights, she added, Tokarczuk "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".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Polish author wins Man Booker International Prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe