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From the incomparably original Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Flights interweaves reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration. 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.

Here I am --
World in your head --
Your head in the world --
Syndrome --
Cabinet of curiosities --
Seeing is knowing --
Seven years of trips --
Guidance from Cioran --
Kunicki: water (I) --
Benedictus, quivenit

416 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2007

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About the author

Olga Tokarczuk

65 books5,670 followers
Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland's most celebrated and beloved authors, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize, as well as her country's highest literary honor, the Nike. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into more than thirty languages.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,841 reviews
September 13, 2018
Rating: 2.5

This is a book that demands a lot of mental work and, at slightly more than 400 pages, a considerable time investment. While I don’t exactly regret reading it—which is something, I suppose, I was far less impressed with it than most. I’d like to have more to show for my time than I do. This is a fragmented, chaotic, and even careless book roughly organized around the topics of travel and anatomy. As advertised, it is not a traditional or conventional novel—perhaps not a novel at all. It’s a collection of loosely connected stories (many of them inconclusive), anecdotes, facts, a lot of pseudo facts (information that masquerades as having a foundation in reality), ruminations, and attempts at playfulness, cleverness—some of them self-conscious or self-referential. It seems that Tokarczuk did a fair bit of consulting of Wikipedia and who knows what other sources to create her book. (She marvels at the online, collaborative encyclopaedia more than once in Flights.)

Whatever the case, a lot of the “information” Tokarczuk presents in her book is just flat-out wrong. Dark matter, for example, does not account for three-quarters of the universe. According to NASA, it makes up about 27%, while 68% of the universe is dark energy. Any basic anatomy or neurology text will tell you we do not, as Tokarczuk alleges, owe our short-term memory to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is actually involved in long-term memory storage. Atatürk, whose reforms came in the 1920s, was not responsible for the cruel removal of dogs from Constantinople/Istanbul to an island in the Bosporus, where they would die of thirst and starvation. This came in the early 1900s, according to humanities and law professor Colin Dayan in her 2016 book With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia University Press) and other sources.

Is Tokarczuk’s carelessness with facts in this book intentional—some sort of deliberate “post-modern” disregard for accuracy— or is it a result of translator or editorial carelessness? I don’t know, but I don’t see how it serves her “meditation” on travel and anatomy. After I encountered several such errors, I mistrusted the author. Why was I struggling to parse her sometimes tedious lectures on “travel psychology” and discussions of imaginary psychological syndromes that had no foundation in reality? The book increasingly became a sort of futile game I didn’t care to participate in. While I enjoyed a couple of the longer stories Tokarczuk included—for example, the story of a New Zealand biologist (whose work involves the extermination of invasive species) returning to her native Poland to facilitate the assisted suicide of a former lover, and another about a despairing Russian wife and mother, who rides the subway for days on end to escape her hopeless home life—for me, this book just didn’t come together. The idea that things in motion aren’t ultimately as subject to entropy as things at rest just seemed silly. A book that initially struck me as stimulating and clever soon lost its lustre. Flights turned out to be less than the sum of its parts and certainly overhyped.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
October 5, 2018
Now the winner of the Man Booker International prize 2018, which was well deserved.

This is my third book from the Man Booker International prize shortlist and might just be my new favourite book of the year so far.

Whether or not this is a novel is debatable. It is more of an uncategorisable mixture of 116 short pieces varying in length from a single sentence to over 30 pages. On the whole the longer pieces are short stories and the shorter ones thoughts, observations and quirky pieces of science or history.

Tokarczuk has a questing curiosity which is equally at home discussing travel, exploration, the history of anatomy and the science (and ethics) of preservation techniques such as plastination. The thematic logic is sometimes opaque but becomes clearer as the book proceeds.

Like short stories, the component chapters are best read in a single sitting. I would have liked a table of contents to make it easier to find suitable break points, and I decided to create my own, which I have included as an appendix below.

There are also 12 rather intriguing historical maps scattered among the text and once again their relevance is a little unclear.

One of the most striking pieces appears near the end. It treats the uncontrollable spread of plastics in the modern world as a study in evolution - the bag becomes an ultra successful organism which spreads by anemophily (wind pollination).

This is a unique, fascinating and thought-provoking book. Highly recommended. If you want a more professional review, I recommend this one from the Guardian:

Appendix: Table of Contents
Page Title
7 Here I am
8 The World in your Head
16 Your Head in the World
21 Syndrome
23 Cabinet of Curiosities
25 Seeing is Knowing
28 Seven years of Trips
29 Guidance from Cioran
30 Kunicki: Water (i)
39 Benedictus, Qui Venit
39 Panopticon
39 Kunicki: Water (ii)
58 Everywhere and Nowhere
61 Airports
63 Returning to one's Roots
64 Travel Sizes
65 Mano di Giovanni Battista
66 The Original and the Copy
66 Trains for Cowards
69 Abandoned Apartment
69 The Book of Infamy
75 Guidebooks
76 New Athens
78 Wikipedia
79 Citizens of the World Pick up Your Pens!
79 Travel Psychology: Lectio Brevis I
85 The Right Time and Place
85 Instructions
86 Ash Wednesday Feast
102 North Pole Expeditions
103 The Psychology of an Island
103 Purging the Map
104 In Pursuit of Night
108 Sanitary Pads
109 Relics: Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta
110 Belly Dance
111 Meridians
112 Unus Mundus
113 Harem (Menchu's Tale)
123 Another of Menchu's Tales
124 Cleopatras
124 A Very Long Quarter of an Hour
124 Apuleius the Donkey
126 Media Presenters
126 Atatürk's Reforms
127 Kali Yuga
129 Wax Model Collections
132 Dr Blau's Travels (i)
147 Josefina Soliman's First Letter to Franz I, Emperor of Austria
150 Among the Maori
150 Dr Blau's Travels (ii)
170 Plane of Profligates
171 Pilgrim's Make-up
171 Josefina Soliman's Second Letter to Franz I, Emperor of Austria
173 Sarira
174 The Bodhi Tree
176 Home is my Hotel
177 Travel Psychology: Lectio Brevis II
180 Compatriots
181 Travel Psychology: Conclusion
183 The Tongue is the Smallest Muscle
183 Speak! Speak!
184 Frog and Bird
186 Lines, Planes and Bodies
188 The Achilles Tendon
196 The History of Filip Verheyen Written by his Student and Confidant William van Horssen
214 Letters to the Amputated Leg
219 Travel Tales
220 Three Hundred Kilometres
221 30,000 Guilders
229 The Tsar's Collection
232 Irkutsk - Moscow
233 Dark Matter
234 Morality is Reality
234 Flights
266 What the Shrouded Runaway was Saying
268 Josefina Soliman's Third Letter to Franz I
272 Things not Made by Human Hands
273 Purity of Blood
274 Kunstkammer
274 Mano di Constantino
276 Mapping the Void
277 Another Cook
278 Whales, or Drowning in Air
280 Godzone
314 Fear Not
315 Day of the Dead
317 Ruth
317 Reception at Large Fancy Hotels
318 Point
319 Cross Section as Learning Method
320 Chopin's Heart
329 My Specimens
329 Network State
331 Swastikas
331 Vendors of Names
332 Death and Action
333 Evidence
334 Nine
335 Attempts at Travel Stereometry
336 Even
336 Świebodzin
338 Kunicki: Earth
367 Island Symmetries
368 Air-Sickness Bags
369 The Earth's Nipples
370 Pogo
370 Wall
370 Amphitheatre in Sleep
372 Map of Greece
374 Kairos
402 I'm Here
403 On the Origin of Species
404 Final Timetable
407 The Polymer Preservation Process, Step by Step
408 Boarding
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
October 11, 2019
In the profusion of images and metaphors that make up this book, one image stands out.
That I'm now using it as an opening for the review is apt, because the image I'm thinking of is a line, as in the first stroke a pen makes on a blank sheet of paper.
Or the line made by a jet stream, dividing the sky in two.
Or the stroke made by an anatomist's scalpel on virgin skin.
Or indeed the line made by the shadow that splits the earth into daytime and nightime, bright time and dark time.

It's no surprise then that Olga Tokarczuk's wunderkammer of a book is full of contrasts, that it's a treasure chest with a bright side and a dark side.
No surprise at all.
Because for every episode that celebrates life, there's another that celebrates death.

Tokarczuk invites us to travel across the azure of the heavens on one page, while on the next, she drags us through Stygian underworlds.
Her pen needles our emotions and memories, and strikes right into our hearts.

But her subject is bigger than you or me.
As she moves across the globe, she examines the places she visits with an anatomist's eye.
She shows us that places too can have circulation systems, lungs, and a beating heart.

Because this book is a giant anatomy lesson.
And the body on the table is the Earth itself.
Profile Image for Guille.
785 reviews1,754 followers
July 19, 2020
Que no, que no
Que el pensamiento no puede tomar asiento
Que el pensamiento es estar
Siempre de paso, de paso, de paso
(Luís Eduardo Aute)
“Los errantes” es un libro hermoso, estimulante, sugerente y también desconcertante, un elogio y una exaltación del nomadismo, que, fiel a sus preceptos, es puro movimiento de formas y temas. Una colección de unos pocos largos relatos unidos por otros más cortos, así como por una gran variedad de chascarrillos, reflexiones y anécdotas históricas o personales, que sirven al lector, además de para disfrutar de las originales perspectivas, juicios y ocurrencias de la autora, para despejar la mente de la fuerte impresión que le causara el cuento anterior y prepararla para el siguiente. Pero no es una mera reunión de textos. A cada paso se encuentran relaciones entre sus partes, y, así, entre ellas y el todo que conforman, “igual que el parentesco en los culebrones brasileños donde todo el mundo puede resultar ser hijo, marido o hermana de todo el mundo”.
“… descubrí que –pese a todos los peligros– siempre sería mejor lo que se movía que lo estático, que sería más noble el cambio que la quietud, que lo estático estaba condenado a desmoronarse, degenerar y acabar reducido a la nada; lo móvil, en cambio, duraría incluso toda la eternidad.”
En buena parte de ellos se reivindica el viaje, el camino, la exploración, la observación y se reprueba la quietud, el apoltronamiento, el ensimismamiento, lo fijo y establecido. Olga Tokarczuk huye de ataduras, de raíces, de propiedades que puedan menoscabar su libertad de movimiento y pensamiento. Parece formar parte de esa secta de los Bieguni, el título del libro en su forma original, que debían mantenerse en constante movimiento para no ser atrapados por el maligno. Algo parecido a lo que uno de los personajes del cuento que da título a todo el libro, una sintecho a la que conocemos por el sobrenombre de la bientapada, se pasa el día farfullando:
"Contonéate, muévete, no dejes de moverte. Solo así lo despistarás. Quien rige los destinos del mundo no tiene poder sobre el movimiento y sabe que nuestro cuerpo al moverse es sagrado, solo escaparás de él mientras te estés moviendo. Ejerce su poder sobre lo inmóvil y petrificado, sobre lo inerte y quieto…Porque todo lo asentado en este mundo, sea Estado, Iglesia o gobierno humano, todo lo que en este infierno conserva su forma está a su servicio…Hacer planes, esperar resultados, consultar horarios, vigilar el orden… Quién se detenga quedará petrificado, quién se pare será disecado… Por eso los tiranos de cualquier calaña, servidores del infierno, llevan en su sangre el odio a los nómadas, por eso persiguen a gitanos y judíos, por eso obligan a toda persona libre a asentarse, la marcan con una dirección que es para nosotros una condena…Bienaventurado es quien camina.”
“Quien se pare será disecado”. Esto enlaza con otro de los grandes temas del libro, el cuerpo (su título en catalán, Cos), su anatomía, sus órganos, sus deformaciones, lo monstruoso, y, como no, su conservación una vez muerto, la técnica, su colección y exposición. Nadie se salva de ser un cuerpo que tiende a la quietud absoluta y, por tanto, a la putrefacción. En el fondo, todos somos, en mayor o menor medida, como uno de los personajes de otro de los grandes cuentos del libro, Kunicki:
“de cintura para arriba está tranquilo, relajado y soñoliento; de cintura para abajo, imparable. A todas luces se compone de dos personas. Arriba anhela paz y justicia; abajo se muestra transgresor y quebranta todos los principios. Arriba tiene nombre, apellido, dirección y número de carnet de identidad; abajo no tiene nada que decir sobre su persona, en realidad está harto de sí mismo.”
Hay un afán que transciende épocas y territorios por parar la putrefacción, por evitar el deterioro, por conservar, sean especímenes raros o no, por no dejar que desaparezcan sin más. Es más, la autora es consciente de que escribiendo no hace otra cosa que disecar, que fijar para siempre e inmortalizar unas sensaciones, unos pensamientos que, mientras están en la mente del autor, fluyen, evolucionan, cambian constantemente, pero que también pueden desaparecer, como los cuerpos tras la muerte. Una forma de disecar el alma como se diseca un cuerpo, dependiendo de la calidad técnica del proceso el resultado será más o menos duradero.
“… nos inmortalizaremos mutuamente en hojas de papel, nos plastinaremos, nos sumergiremos en el formaldehído de frases”.
Y, al mismo tiempo, escribe como un intento de encontrar el Kairós, otra de las palabras claves del libro que también dará título a uno de los cuentos, “el punto perfecto donde el tiempo y el espacio alcanzan un acuerdo”. Al escribir, se combinan palabras, se buscan las más adecuadas en pos del abracadabra, “ese mágico zapato que convierte en princesa a Cenicienta”, la combinación que hará surgir ese todo al que toda forma incompleta tiende con el fin de dejar de padecer ese dolor fantasma del que hablan aquellos que han sufrido la amputación de un miembro. Hay que intentarlo una y otra vez “¿Y si esta vez resulta?”, aunque al final del viaje no sepamos ni qué andábamos buscando.
"No son pocos los que creen que el sistema de coordenadas del mundo determina un punto perfecto donde el tiempo y el espacio alcanzan un acuerdo. Debe de ser por eso por lo que se marchan de casa, creen que moviéndose, aunque sea de modo caótico, aumentarán las posibilidades de dar con ese punto. Hallarse en el momento y en el lugar adecuados, aprovechar la oportunidad, agarrar por el flequillo el instante, y entonces el código de la cerradura se desactivará, la combinación de cifras del premio gordo quedará al descubierto, la verdad, revelada. No pasarlo por alto, surfear sobre la casualidad, las coincidencias, los giros del destino. No se necesita nada más, basta con comparecer en esa configuración única de tiempo y espacio. Ahí se puede encontrar un gran amor, la felicidad, un décimo premiado de la lotería o la explicación de un misterio que todo el mundo lleva años buscando en vano, o la muerte. Algunas mañanas da la impresión de que tal momento está al caer, tal vez sea hoy mismo".
Y si no es así, siempre nos cabe esperar que se cumpla la promesa que para la autora tienen las sonrisas de las azafatas de vuelo:
“…una promesa de que quizá volvamos a nacer y esta vez será en el momento y lugar adecuados.”
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 20, 2020
An essayistic work of fiction about travel, anatomy, and time, Flights meditates on what it means to embrace wandering as a way of life. A few lengthy stories about travelers and migrants comprise the bulk of the collection, but between these the author intersperses many short sketches, essays, anecdotes, and facts. Some have taken issue with the shorter pieces, but I found both kinds of work to be hit or miss. In spite of the collection’s unevenness, Tokarczuk occasionally draws interesting parallels between the ways humans map the world, the body, and the intellect. Had the author connected these disparate insights into some kind of overarching argument, the book would have been more consistently engaging.
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,556 followers
August 31, 2021
Women in Translation 2021 book 4

Another fail, I am afraid. I won't rate the book because I skipped major chunks It won the Nobel prize, it is book about travel which is my favorite activity, I should have liked it. Flights is a collection of short stories, essays, thoughts, bits and pieces varying in length from a few sentences to a few pages. Some have a common characters and some have nothing related with the rest except it is about travel. I did not like the disjointed and unconnected structure, I thought many of the stories/essays were boring and the writing was also unimpressive for me. It won the Nobel prize so it is a valuable work but I would recommend trying a sample before buying the whole book.
Profile Image for Candi.
623 reviews4,719 followers
May 23, 2021
“In my writing, life would turn into incomplete stories, dreamlike tales, would show up from afar in odd dislocated panoramas, or in cross sections – and so it would be almost impossible to reach any conclusions as to the whole.”

This book is nearly impossible for me to describe. One thing I can say with certainty is that Olga Tokarczuk has a curious mind and an adventurous spirit. She takes the reader not just on a journey from one place to the next but on an exploration of what makes us human – our substance, the anatomy of our bodies, the synapses and connections in our minds, our desire to learn and our yearning for travel. What is precisely our aim when we travel? Is it simply to reach a particular destination? Is it the process itself, the drive behind that urge to get up and go someplace else, whether temporarily or permanently? She speaks not only of maps of the world, but of the body as well– the muscles, vessels, the brain, and the nerves. She breaks things down into their microscopic parts. It’s a brilliant analogy, really - this comparison between geography and physiology.

The structure of this book is also divided into many parts. Little compartments of information told either in very short form – a paragraph or two – or in extended short story form. One piece is not necessarily linked directly with the succeeding anecdote or story. Flights in its entirety is a thought-provoking composition that perhaps asks more questions than it provides answers.

“Whenever I set off on any sort of journey I fall off the radar. No one knows where I am. At the point I departed from? Or at the point I’m headed to? Can there be an in-between? Am I like that lost day when you fly east, and that regained night that comes from going west? Am I subject to that much-lauded law of quantum physics that states that a particle may exist in two places at once? Or to a different law that hasn’t been demonstrated and that we haven’t even thought of yet that says that you can doubly not exist in the same place?”

Much of this work is a series of musings by the author, some of them as she sat in airports or on planes, writing down those things that came to mind regarding herself, the purpose of travel and her fellow travelers. Her short fiction fascinated me – even the more science-y stories that ventured into speculative fiction and the preservation of human organs and bodies. It was a bit odd to me at first, especially in a collection I assumed would be all about travelling. It didn’t take long for me to get immersed even in this somewhat grotesque aspect of her storytelling, however! Her short stories pulled me in and made me even more inspired to read her longer fiction writing. She has a keen intellect and her reflections resonated with me. I’m not sure I could begin to guess who else would find this appealing, but you most certainly need to go into it ready to soak up a myriad of ideas. After all, an inquisitive mind and the continual search for knowledge is never a bad thing, is it?!

“… I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,102 reviews7,208 followers
August 13, 2023
A potpourri of brilliance from the Polish author who won the Nobel Prize in 2018. This book also won the 2018 Man Booker International prize for translations.

The organization of the book confused me at first and I almost gave up on it but I’m glad I stuck with it.

We have alternating mini-essays, many related to travel, airports and airplanes (thus the title), interspersed with a few short stories. Most of the short stories have a travel theme as well. These mini-essays focus on topics like airports becoming mini-cities in their own right, or hotel rooms, or watching people in the lobby at a hotel registration area; even selecting travel toiletries.


Some of the mini-essays come as stories you might hear from talking to strangers in your travels. She tells us that rather than seeking out people who speak her language when she travels, she avoids them. She doesn’t have anything good to say about travel guidebooks.

As the narrator travels, she’s particularly interested in museums that have collections of preserved body organs and plasticine models of human veins and organs. So we have essays on the early development of preservation techniques and related stories (that we assume are true), such as Chopin leaving specific instructions about how to make his death mask and how to cut out and preserve his heart in a jar.

There’s a series of letters written to Emperor Frederick from the daughter of a black North African man who had risen to be a minister and right-hand man of the emperor. Still, when the minister died the emperor had his body stuffed and preserved and put on display in his museum, along with animals, with just a fig leaf for cover. The daughter is writing to plead for his body to be returned for a Christian burial. Fact or fiction? The situation sounds true, but maybe the letters are fiction?

As I said, most of the embedded short stories relate to travel, such as one that is told in three sections throughout the book. A husband, wife and young child travel for vacation to the Croatian island of Vis in the Adriatic. The woman and child disappear. Despite searches by teams of officials and helicopters, they can’t be found. It’s a tiny island the size of Nantucket. Where could they have gone?

Another story involves an elderly professor who gives lectures about the Greek islands on cruise ships. His frail body comes alive for his lectures.

A veterinary researcher gets an email from a former lover she has not seen or heard from for 30 years. Yet she packs her bags and takes leave of her husband and kids for a trip across Russia and then back to Poland with a single astounding purpose accomplished.

There is good writing such as this passage from a short story about a woman with a teenaged son who is bedridden and completely incapacitated. She spends her life caring for him. In a rare occasion out of the house she sees teenagers in a park gathered around a girl on a horse:

“In all of them she sees her Petya; they are around the same age. Petya comes back into her body, as though she'd never given him up into the world. He's there, curled up, heavy as a stone, painful, swelling inside her, growing - it must be that she has to give birth to him again, this time out of every pore she has in her skin, sweating him out. For now he comes up in her throat, sticking in her lungs, and he won't emerge in any other way besides a sob. No, she won't be able to eat a blini - she's full. Petya’s lodged in her throat, when he could have been sitting there and reaching up with a beer can in his hand, giving it to the girl with the horse, leaning into it with his whole body, bursting out laughing. He could have been in motion…”

At various times she talks of ‘travel psychology’ and even ‘travel psychoanalysis.’ So we have passages like this one:

“She gives up on the idea of visiting the halls where she’d once lived. In fact, everything here repels her. Suddenly she's utterly baffled by this phenomenon of people actually choosing, of their own free will, to go back and visit the different places of their youths. What is it they think they're going to find? What is it they have to have validation of - just the fact that they had been there? Or that they’d done the right thing in leaving? Or perhaps they were urged on by some hope that recollecting more precisely these lost places would work with the lightning speed of a zipper to unite the past and future, creating a single stable surface, tooth to tooth, a metal suture.”

And a few quotes I liked:

“…life seems like a disgusting habit we lost control over a long time ago.”

“There's too much in the world. It would be wiser to reduce it, rather than expanding or enlarging it. We'd be better off stuffing it back into its little can... We have no choice now but to learn how to endlessly select.”

“…I had heard that nothing cures melancholy like looking at maps.” [As a retired geography professor, should I agree? Lol.]

It’s rare for me to think while reading a book “Wow, this person is brilliant.” But that’s the feeling I had several times while reading. It’s interesting though that the narrator tells us nothing about herself, other than at the very beginning when she writes that she thinks her wanderlust came from traveling with her parents in a camper as a child.


The author (b. 1962) has written about eight novels; almost all available in English. Her best-known work in English is Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.

Top photo from ustravel.org
The author from parisreview.org

[Edited 8/13/23]
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,309 followers
January 1, 2021
From Shadow Man Booker International Prize to Nobel laureate....

Now the winner of the Shadow Man Booker International Prize from a panel of reviewers and bloggers, including myself, and also winner of the official Man Booker International Prize.

My photo of author and translator after I handed them our shadow jury prize:


Highly recommended:

Throughout this beautiful chaos, threads of meaning spread in all directions, networks of strange logic.
His eyes attentively probe their constellations, positionings, the directions they point in, the shapes they make.

Flights published by perhaps the UK’s finest publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions and wonderfully translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft (who translates from Argentinian Spanish as well as Polish) is the first Olga Tokarczuk novel I have read but certainly won’t be the last.

The Polish original was entitled Bieguni after a peculiar (possibly apocryphal) sect who believed that the only way to escape the power of the Antichrist was to avoid stability anything that has a stable place in this world - every county, church, every human government, everything that has a preserved form in this hell - is at his command ... he who rules the world has no power over movement and knows that our body in motion is holy, and only then can you escape him, once you’ve taken off. Although this title could have been used in English, Jennifer Croft took the decision to change it to Flights: a title taken from one of the many different pieces that comprise the novel, and which Tokarczuk notes opens up a new interpretation of the novel, given the wider range of connotations that the word has in English vs. its Polish equivalent.

Both speak to the theme of the novel: travel and the necessity for some of always being in motion rather than at rest.

As a young child the narrator finds her way to the Oder river:

The first trip I ever took was across the fields, on foot. It took them a long time to notice I was gone, which meant I was able to make it quite some distance. I covered the whole park and even – going down dirt roads, through the corn and the damp meadows teeming with cowslip flowers, sectioned into squares by ditches – reached the river. Though of course the river was ubiquitous in that valley, soaking up under the ground cover and lapping at the field.

And she soon realised, that unlike her parents, with their settled life in one place, that life is not for me. Clearly I did not inherit whatever gene it is that makes it so that when you linger in a place you start to put down roots. I’ve tried, a number of times, but my roots have always been shallow; the littlest breeze could always blow me right over. I don’t know how to germinate, I’m simply not in possession of that vegetable capacity. I can’t extract nutrition from the ground, I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement – from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.

The novel that unfolds is not told in linear fashion but, rather like the narrator’s life, is told in fragments, details of her own travels intercut with observations on the psychology of travel and stories of travelers down the ages:

Am I doing the right thing telling stories? Wouldn’t it be better to fasten the mind with a clip, tighten the reins and express myself not be means of stories and histories, but with the simplicity of a lecture, where in sentence after sentence a single thought gets clarified, and then others racked after onto it in the succeeding paragraphs? I could use quotes and footnotes. I could in the order of points or chapters reap the consequences of demonstrating step by step what it is I mean ...

Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is never possible to fully control. They require people like me - insecure, indecisive, easily led astray. Naive.

And as she observes of her writing career, she became for some time a sort of gargantuan ear that listened to murmurs and echoes and whispers, far-off voices that filtered through the walls. But I never became a real writer. Life always managed to elude me. I’d only ever find its tracks, the skin it sloughed off. By the time I had determined its lo­cation, it had already gone somewhere else. And all I’d find were signs that it had been there, like those scrawl­ings on the trunks of trees in parks that merely mark a person’s passing presence. In my writing, life would turn into incomplete stories, dreamlike tales, would show up from afar in odd dislocated panoramas, or in cross sections – and so it would be almost impossible to reach any conclusions as to the whole.

Many of the pieces that form the novel are short (eg a page) and largely stand alone. For example “The Tongue is the Strongest Muscle” pities the fate of monolingual native English speakers: How lost they must feel in the world , where all instructions, all the lyrics of the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures - even the buttons in the lift! - are in their private language ... Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them - they are accessible to everyone and everything!

Tokarczuk refers to her technique with the shorter pieces as 'constellation' - letting the reader draw their own lines and form their own picture, and for me there were a number of main threads that emerged, notably:

- theoretical lectures on travel psychology given, according to the novel’s story, gratis at airports to passing passenger by an EU funded program. These for example introduce us to Stendhal Syndrome (the shock experienced by someone encountering an experience of great personal significance, typically a work of art or a great city) and it’s near-opposite Paris Syndrome (the psychological trauma experienced by mostly Japanese tourist when the reality of Paris doesn’t live up to their idealised expectations). And the three stages of the travellers feeling on waking up in a new place - from assuming they are home, to confusion as to where they ars, to the last enlightened state - “It makes no difference ... I’m here.”

- the minor Greek god Kairos, god of the fleeting, opportunistic or advantageous moment.

- the narrator’s peculiar attachment - she claims it is known as Recurrent Detoxification Syndrome - to the imperfect, which manifests itself in her travels as being drawn not to the well-known museums in the cities she visits but rather to cabinets of curiosities where collections are comprised of the rare, the unique, the bizarre, the freakish.

- and linked to this,the book tells the story of the fictitious Dr Blau, putative successor to (the real-life) Gunther von Hagens in the field of plastination (crafty plastinators, heirs of embalmers, of tanners, of anatomists and taxidermists ... I also had the rather unnerving suspicion that this technique could transform originals into copy) to preserve organs and bodies, and, earlier from the 17th century, Frederik Ruysch. Tokarczuk has also remarked that the narrator's fascination with plastination relates to the fragility of the ultimate vehicle that we all use for travel - the human body.

Tokarczuk makes a similarly strong link between travel around the world and the mapping of the human anatomy. The narrative notes that in 1542, just as Copernicus’s revolutionary (pun intended) map of the solar system (Revoltionibus Orbium Coelestium) omitted Uranus, so Vesalius’s equally important map of the human anatomy (De Humani corporis fabrica) lacked a number of specific mechanical solutions in the human body, spans, joints, connections - such as, to give just one example, the tendon that joins the calf to the heel. It was to be 1689 until Filip Verheyen, a contemporary of Ruysch, discovered and named the archilles tendon, and Flights also tells us his story and draws the aforementioned connection: How could this tendon never have been noticed? It’s hard to believe that parts of one’s body are discovered as though one were forging one’s way upriver in search of sources.

Perhaps the least obvious fit to the novel’s narrative approach is a more conventional fictional and present-day story which is inserted, albeit split into three parts over the novel, of a Polish man on holiday in Croatia. When visiting a small island, Vis, his wife asks him to stop the car, takes a short walk with his young son, he assumes for a comfort break, but never returns. The review by The London Magazine below provides a very helpful interpretation of the story within the context of the overall novel. The story within the story Flights, from which the English translation takes its title, provides a companion piece, similarly a near-present day fictitious story of a Soviet women, struggling to cope with a ex-military vet husband and a chronically ill son. One day she goes out on her weekly break, her mother-in-law providing temporary respite care, but doesn’t return to the house, instead finding shelter on the Moscow metro and with the homeless, where she meets a (the?) surviving member of the Bieguni.

One fascinating aspect of reading Flights, and which I think speaks to the power of the prose as well as the ubiquity of the themes, is the echoes it raised from other favourite books I have read in the last 12 months, notably other books from Fitzcarraldo themselves as well as their small independent press peers from the Republic of Consciousness Prize. The opening section, describing the narrator’s first trip to a river, could have been taken from Esther Kinsky’s River; the preoccupation with collections of the macabre from Matthias Enard’s magnificent Compass; and the opening quote to my review, with its sense of permanent possessions as a burden, echoes the story of the auctioneer from David Hayden’s Darker with the Lights On. Stendhal Syndrome also features in three wonderful books; Noemi Lefebvre’s Blue Self Portrait, Jack Robinson’s Overcoat and Eley Williams’s Attrib.

Highly recommended and I look forward to more of the author and translator’s work, in particular Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead, which Fitzcarraldo will publish later in 2018 and the Book of Jacob which Jennifer Croft is currently finalising.

Other reviews that do the book more justice than I can:





Translator interview:

October 18, 2019
Gosh. What a load of disjointed tripe.

Not a novel. Not a book. More like the author collected all kinds of things: personal notes, FB statuses, random thoughts, more random scramblings and mixed it all together into some sort of text.

Extremely dull, disjointed ramblings on all sorts of things.

It could be read but personally I don't find it very interesting or illuminating.

Overhyped graphomania, nothing more, nothing less.

DNFing this.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
464 reviews300 followers
July 7, 2018
A philosophical meditation in anatomy, time and travel, all three are intrinsically linked throughout. The book is filled with odd stories and even stranger characters. Although some of the stories really trigger some emotional responses, this book did feel “heavy”. There’s lots to digest here. It was most definitely a slog at times. I often caught myself absent mindedly reading. Not a good sign :/ I did rather enjoy the brief snippets of passages where the author concentrated on the musings and observations of modern day travel.

At times the stories got too technical and scientifically specific, the anatomy lessons in particular became a little overwhelming for me, it reminded me why I failed miserably in Science, it was hard to keep my concentration the whole way through. Some stories felt well composed others particularly the ancient historical ones did nothing for me or my appreciation for this book or author.

This book is definitely worthy of plenty of praise but I was probably not this books preferred reader. It probably also deserves 5 stars for this is a massive accomplishment of a novel, also praise for the translator who did a phenomenal job, however I can only bestow it 3 stars for not sustaining my interest all the way through and really testing my concentration as a reader.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,826 reviews1,387 followers
October 27, 2022
Am I doing the right thing be telling stories? Wouldn’t it be better to fasten the mind with a clip, tighten the reins and express myself not by means of stories and histories, but with the simplicity of a lecture, where in sentence after sentence a single though gets clarified, and then others are tacked onto it in the succeeding paragraphs. I could use quotes and foot notes …. I would be the mistress of my own text …. As it is I’m taking on the role of midwife, or of the tender of a garden whose only merit is at best sowing seeds and later to fight tediously against weeds. Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is impossible to fully control. They require people like me – insecure, indecisive, easily led astray

This book is published by one of the leading UK small presses, Fitzcarraldo Editions an independent publisher (their words) specialising in contemporary fiction and long-form essays ….. it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language . Their novels are (my words) distinctively and beautifully styled, with plain, deep blue covers and a "French-flap" style. They are also (my experience) typically complex, lengthy and dense and as a result more admirable and worth than truly enjoyable.

This book – a translation from the Polish by Jennifer Croft (and so smoothly translated that it reads like a book originally written in English) is the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International prize.

Overall this book is difficult to categorise – its effectively a mediation on transitions – particularly modern travel but also on fluidity and mobility, but with some lengthy historical diversions (typically relating to anatomical themes – the human body and the historical parallels between mapping the complexities of the body and mapping the world is a key theme) and with some even more lengthy fictional tales. These include: a series of stories about a man Kunicki whose wife and children temporarily leave him on a small Croatian Island they are visiting on holiday; as well as the story which gives the book its English title about the Russian mother who on an impulse flees her disabled son and war veteran husband to live a life as a drifting vagrant on the Moscow metro inspired by a member of a movement-fetishing sect which gives the book its original, Polish title.

The book has interesting parallels with many other books, the number of parallels showing how wide ranging the author’s meditations travel from their centre (itself of course an embedded metaphor).

For example the narrator’s early experiences of the River Oder which seemingly plant in her the idea of travel versus stasis are very reminiscent of passages in Esther Kinsky’s River (by the same publisher). Also early on the narrator (whose voice largely disappears for much of the book) talks about her studies in a passage:

I studied psychology in a big gloomy communist city … that part of the city had been built up on the ruins of the ghetto, which you could tell if you took a good look – that whole neighbourhood stood about three feet higher than the rest of the town. Three feet of rubble.

Which reminded me of Han Kang’s The White Book (also longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International), a book written in Warsaw and whose central conceit is that the narrator’s live is somehow built on the “broken pediment” of the life her sister would have lived, had she not perished as a very young child, in the same ways Warsaw is built on the ruin of its former self.

The frequent visits to and obsession with anatomical museums (the back of the book includes a list of those visited) is very reminiscent of Jessie Greengrass’s Sight: A Novel (longlisted for the 20918 Women's Prize).

A very interesting angle I found was in a discussion on how the concept of linear time is associated with the move from a traditional agricultural to a mercantile economy:

Sedentary peoples, farmers, prefer the pleasures of circular time, in which every object and event must return to its own beginning, curl back up into an embryo and repeat the process of maturation and death. But nomads and merchants, as they set off on journeys, had to think up a different type of time for themselves, one that would better respond to the needs of their travels. That time is linear time, more practical because it was able to measure progress towards a goal, a destination … And yet the innovation is a profoundly bitter one: when change over time is irreversible, loss and mourning become daily things

Interesting to me because my book of 2017, Jon McGregor’s 2018 Reservoir 13, explicitly looks to reinsert the concept of circular time into literature by examining how quotidian dramas play out against the rhythmic seasons of village life and the natural world, while time continues to pass incessantly.

Overall the parts of the book I most enjoyed were those relating to 21st Century travel – partly I believe due to identification with its theme (given my frequent transatlantic flights on which much of my reading takes place) and partly due to the brevity and focus of those sections. I particularly enjoyed for example

Whenever I set off on a journey I fall off the radar. No one knows where I am …………… [those like me] show up all of a sudden in the arrivals terminal and start to exist when the immigrations officers stamp their passpots, or where the polite receptionist at whatever hotel hands over their key”

She falls asleep too fast, exhausted from jetlag, like a lone card taken out of its deck and shuffled into another, strange one.

The other sections at times dragged – summed up I think best by a section "A VERY LONG QUARTER OF AN HOUR" which in its entirety says

“On the plane between 8.45 and 9 a.m. To my mind, it took an hour, or even longer.”

Some of the pages and sections of the book felt very much the same to me – too discursive and unfocused. In particular I would unfavourably contrast the book with Charco Press’s Fireflies by Luis Sagasti which manages to roam across 20th Century history (particularly the history of flight) and 20th Century art in only 85 pages.

Overall though as the quote at the start of this review makes clear – the discursive, flowing style is very deliberate here and associated precisely with the state of fluidity and transition that the book is exploring, or to give another quote.

There are different kinds of looking. One kind of looking allows you to simply see objects, useful human things, honest and concrete, which you know right away how to use and what for. And then there’s panoramic viewing, a more general view, thanks to which you notice links between objects, their network of reflections. Things cease to be things, the fact that they serve a purpose is insignificant, just a surface. Now they’re signs, indicating something that isn’t in the photographs, referring beyond the frames of the pictures. You have to really concentrate to be able to maintain that gaze, as its essence it’s a gift, grace.
Profile Image for Pavel Nedelcu.
313 reviews123 followers
October 6, 2022

I perfectly understand, from a philological point of view, and openly support literature going against the current. But this one was unreadable! I really struggled to finish it: I wanted to, because I believed something would change till the end – that the stories initiated will be jointed somehow and there will be a key of some sort, an ending reflecting back on what has been written – that something – anything.

And there was nothing. 410 pages of questionable material the protagonist (and implicitly the author) must have considered worthwhile: not only were the half-minded opinions about life, the fragments of/about travel, the fiction-exercises not extraordinary, but, if you ask me, mediocre and uninteresting!

If you decide to collect a series of things, be them some random “chapters”, well, they have to arouse some general interest, otherwise you end up collecting them for your own curiosity/joy/idontknowwhat – therefore you might as well keep them for yourself.

I’m not against writing without a narrative plot (and in fact I admire Virginia Woolf’s works for that matter) or writing in ways different from the most common (originality is the first parameter according to which I express any opinion about books) BUT here the author loses sight of the public, of the characters, of the narrative, of the structure and length of her work, and finally of herself.

Every writer in this world could put together a book like this. All you have to do is to take notes about a specific topic. Just like they come into your head, no filter at all, better if you have strong opinions (take, for instance, about electronic music and the dancing derived from it, “These are ecstatic leaps, twirling in place… – it’s the dance stamped out by teenagers all over the world at concerts…”), be sure you express them in categoric, matter-of-factly ways – but then, why should they even be taken into consideration?

The general feeling that one is left with after reading this book is that the author did not want to (not that she couldn’t, because she can) write something serious: that she threw all her jumbled notes in. And that she has seasoned it all with some narrative exercises, some stories that begin and are left suspended, again, not because the writer was unable to finish them, but simply because she did not want to.

Of course, you need a good explanation to justify this huge waste and, considering the level of ambiguity of the book, something as unclear as "some unity above heterogeneity" that should be "spontaneously revealed" (p. 388) would do.

Unfortunately, the only thing spontaneously revealed to me was my wasted time in trying to understand something that probably did not make sense even to the author herself. I’m really sorry: for me it didn’t work. I’ll try again with a different book by Tokarczuk.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,593 reviews2,825 followers
October 10, 2019
Now Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2018
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2018
DNF @ 31% - stop throwing confetti at me!!
"Flights" is a meditation on travel, in a literal and a metaphorical sense. The book encompasses 116 very different texts, thus employing a typical modernist composition technique: The reader gains significant power because whoever looks at this narrative mosaic will fill the gaps with different meanings and find/create particular connections, so the final work of art naturally encorporates the contribution of the reader.

While there is a protagonist who keeps re-appearing, many of the vignettes capture ideas, stories or facts connected to travel - there are short encounters, glimpses, geographical and other factual/scientific information, and philosophical aphorisms. It is surprising to me that this approach is seen as innovative by some reviewers, because it was already done at the beginning of the 20th century, so it's not even postmodern - which does not necessarily mean that this is a bad book, but you certainly can't play the "pushing the envelope" card.

For me, the success of a novel structured as this one depends on how interesting and insightful the separate texts are. In the case case of "Flights", I found it easy to find thematical connections between the texts, but the individual texts did not captivate me - rather, it seemed to me that the structure was an elaborate set-up to present the reader with some pretty overblown ideas, e.g.

- "Who thought up the human body, and consequently, who holds the eternal copyright?"
- "The truth is terrible: describing is destroying."
- "Barbarians don't travel."
- "Change will always be a nobler thing than permanence."

I know that there's a reading audience that enjoys these kinds of ruminations, alas, I am not part of it - I've also never been a fan of Paulo Coelho. I don't find this deep, and not even entertaining.

It hurts me that I couldn't bring myself to love this more, especially as the translation by Jennifer Croft is absolutely outstanding (5 stars for that!!). I also found it interesting that Tokarczuk wrote this book 12 years ago: In a recent interview, she stated that back then, it seemed like the world would become more open for everybody (Poland joined the EU in 2004), which means that in 2018, the book has gained new political relevance - there's certainly something to that.

I will be happy for everyone who enjoys this more than me.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews623 followers
March 10, 2019
Audiobook: read by Julia

Winner of the Man Booker Prize
This is my first book by Oga Tokarczuk - a Polish author.

The stories gave me the visuals of roaming — traveling without a permanent plan - yet wishing for inner peace - and tribal connections.

The blurb tells of the nitty-gritty-specifics.....
me: I enjoyed Julia Whelan’s voice - picking up on emotions - just letting my imagination sync with the stories.

I was reminded of my travel days — wondering streets of Tel Aviv... or Afghanistan... observing other people…and being observed.

I learned the big lesson from traveling for two years outside the United States years ago - which I thought about with these stories...
“You take yourself with you no matter where you go... no matter how far you run”

I enjoyed the writing - the uniqueness- the stories themselves -
and the precise feeling that things are the exactly the way they are in the moment—but not what we wish them to be.
Feelings of running - as if taking a train to a new city might help- being loss - hoping for understanding and better days...no permanence... but searching.... wondering and desiring how feeling settled with home might be.

Ha... I can say today..,
Home feels better than roaming off for years ( but I’m not regretful for those lonely years either....of moving from one place to the next day in and day out
....Today, though, I at least have the illusion of feeling I’ve found my place in the world.

I can’t possibly be confident that I fully comprehended all these stories - but I did reflect- and allowed my own introspective voice be heard while simply enjoying the rhythm- the movement- of Olga’s creatively.

I liked it -
I felt it’s universal power of humanity.
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews153 followers
November 9, 2021
Durante muchos años he estado convencido de que la forma natural de vivir la vida era asentarse en un lugar, alcanzar una cierta estabilidad y disfrutar de una existencia pacífica y equilibrada. Sentar la cabeza, como reza el canon. Sin embargo, los planes están para saltárselos y mi profesión me ha llevado a cambiar de residencia y de país cada pocos años y, de este modo, he descubierto que, sin yo saberlo, tenía alma nómada.
Por ese motivo pensé que Flights, un libro de relatos sobre la incapacidad, en términos generales, de echar raíces, era un libro escrito para mí. ¿Pero es este realmente un título acerca de la idea de viajar?
Sí y no. Quizá se entendería mejor que clase de texto es Flights remitiéndonos a su título original en polaco: Bieguni, en referencia a una secta del cristianismo ortodoxo que en el siglo XVII predicaban que la forma de evitar el mal es mantenerse en constante movimiento. Eso es lo que hace Tokarczuk en Flights, mantenerse permanentemente en marcha, sin detenerse mucho tiempo en un lugar, o en un tiempo.
She says that sedentary peoples, farmers, prefer the pleasures of circular time, in which every object and event must return to its own beginning, curl back up into an embryo and repeat the process of maturation and death. But nomads and merchants, as they set off on journeys, had to think up a different type of time for themselves, one that would better respond to the needs of their travels. That time is linear time, more practical because it was able to measure progress toward a goal or destination, rises in percentages. Every moment is unique; no moment can ever be repeated. This idea favours risk-taking, living life to the fullest, seizing the day. And yet the innovation is a profoundly bitter one: when change over time is irreversible, loss and mourning become daily things.
She says the only way to survive in that sort of extended, linear time is to keep your distance, a kind of dance that consists in approaching and retreating, one step forward, one step back, one step to the left, one to the right – easy enough steps to remember. And the bigger the world gets, the more distance you can dance out this way, immigrating out across seven seas, two languages, an entire faith.

Movida por la curiosidad, la inquietud o el miedo al estancamiento, la autora salta de la realidad a la ficción, del ensayo a la autobiografía, del relato al aforismo, de la fantasía a la antropología. Variados como son, todos los textos tienen algo en común: de un modo u otro se refieren al acto de moverse―viajar, cambiar, perderse, descomponerse, volver. Eso, y que su lectura es casi hipnótica.
Flights es intermitente y errático, y eso lo convierte en una lectura excitante―porque lo inesperado, lo inclasificable es siempre excitante. Pero, aunque nunca llegue a detenerse por mucho tiempo en un lugar, su capacidad de observación es pasmosa y sus reflexiones, brillantes.
There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us – we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It’s hard to imagine, but English is their real language! Oftentimes their only language. They don’t have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt. How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures – even the buttons in the lift! – are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths.

Casi nada en este libro es anecdótico o casual y uno no puede dejar de pensar que en su ambulante navegar por el mundo sigue algún tipo de mapa críptico, una ruta de peregrinación que, volviendo al título original, tiene algo de religioso. Una religión de la movilidad que tiende, en lugar de a la pureza o la perfección, a todo aquello que está gastado, estropeado, roto, defectuoso; hacia cualquier cosa que se desvíe de la norma.
Nuestra sociedad trata por todos los medios de fijarnos a un lugar, un empleo, unas creencias, un hogar. En los textos de Flights, sin embargo, abundan aeropuertos, trenes, hoteles―pero también museos; lugares donde todo el mundo está de paso y donde aquellos que no encuentran su lugar en el mundo―los nómadas, los raros, las excepciones―pueden disfrutar de la ilusión de la movilidad, de la fluidez, puede que incluso de un cierto sentimiento de pertenencia.
Whoever pauses will be petrified, whoever stops, pinned like an insect, his heart pierced by a wooden needle, his hands and feet drilled through and pinned into the threshold and the ceiling … This is why tyrants of all stripes, infernal servants, have such deep-seated hatred for the nomads – this is why they persecute the Gypsies and the Jews, and why they force all free people to settle, assigning the addresses that serve as our sentences.

Hoy creemos vivir en un mundo global, conectado, simplemente porque podemos “viajar” a través de las minúsculas pantallas de nuestros móviles u ordenadores. Flights reivindica apasionadamente la auténtica movilidad, la conectividad de las personas, no de los dispositivos. Para Olga Tokarczuk viajar (pasar tiempo en lugares, sin guía turística ni cámara de fotos) es el rasgo definitivo de la civilización―“Barbarians don’t travel. They simply go to destinations or conduct raids”―y, a la vez, un acto de profunda rebeldía contra las normas sociales que, las más de las veces, nos encadenan.
Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,402 followers
September 9, 2020

In the end no matter how much I loved Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (maybe my top book of the year), I just can’t pretend to have liked this one. I did not enjoy a *single* moment I spent reading it.

I don’t normally put a much stock in any kind of standardized rating system, but generally the more stars I give, the more likely I’d be to recommend it to someone. I have no idea who I’d recommend this to. It’s bizarre and feels almost alien, like it takes place in a parallel universe. It’s an uncanny valley of short stories that are all supposedly about a theme (travel???) which I did not pick up on at all.

There’s also a huge chunk spent talking about dissecting and preserving dead bodies, which is, to use technical terminology, very yucky. I was lost for chunks of it—I must have amnesia of some sort because there are entire portions I blacked out during. And anything else that I remember was boring.

I know some people, somewhere, will love this. If only because I can see 5 star reviews mixed in with the rest. I do not understand, but I guess I don’t have to. Olga Tokarczuk is a fantastic writer, so yes this is no exception technically speaking. But I wish I had just skipped it.

(Both the translator and the audiobook narrator are excellent. I would read more by them)
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books699 followers
October 10, 2019
*Now deserving Nobel Laureate*

"Age all in your mind. Gender grammatical. I actually buy my books in paperback, so that I can leave them without remorse on the platform, for someone else to find. I don’t collect anything."

This book can be a kind of bible for the people with restless legs - people whose biggest fear that they will have to spend all their life in one place; to whom travel is the religion, road is the home and their own house merely a comfortable hotel. The narrator is one such person:

"Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity. From then on, the river was like a needle inserted into my formerly safe and stable surroundings, the landscape comprised of the park, the greenhouses with their vegetables that grew in sad little rows, and the pavement with its concrete slabs where we would go to play hopscotch. This needle went all the way through, marking a vertical third dimension; so pierced, the landscape of my childhood world turned out to be nothing more than a toy made of rubber from which all the air was escaping, with a hiss."

There is a small percentage of people who are willing to let go off security and comforts of a settled life to live like nomads because they suffer from what the author calls Recurrent Detoxification Syndrome (one of my best friend is like that):

"Without the bells and whistles, its description boils down to the insistence of one’s consciousness on returning to certain images, or even the compulsive search for them. It is a variant of the Mean World Syndrome, which has been described fairly exhaustively in neuropsychological studies as a particular type of infection caused by the media. It’s quite a bourgeois ailment, I suppose. Patients spend long hours in front of the TV, thumbing at their remote controls through all the channels till they find the ones with the most horrendous news: wars, epidemics and disasters. Then, fascinated by what they’re seeing, they can’t tear themselves away."

It is the other lot, the settlers which must have been strange to them:

"They’d set up in the designated areas, at campsites where they were always in the company of others just like them, having lively conversations with their neighbours surrounded by socks drying on tent cords. The itineraries for these trips would be determined with the aid of guidebooks that painstakingly highlighted all the attractions. In the morning a swim in the sea or the lake, and in the afternoon an excursion into the city’s history, capped off by dinner, most often out of glass jars: goulash, meatballs in tomato sauce. You just had to cook the pasta or the rice. Costs were always being cut, the Polish zloty was weak – penny of the world. There was the search for a place where you could get electricity and then the reluctant decamping after, although all journeys remained within the same metaphysical orbit of home. They weren’t real travellers: they left in order to return. And they were relieved when they got back, with a sense of having fulfilled an obligation. They returned to collect the letters and bills that stacked up on the chest of drawers. To do a big wash. To bore their friends to death by showing pictures as everyone attempted to conceal their yawns. This is us in Carcassonne. Here’s my wife with the Acropolis in the background.""

The shorter ones of the over 100 chapters (also the ones I liked best) that form this book are full of such travel anecdotes whereas bigger ones give a few short stories. All related directly or indirectly to traveling touching other themes like immigration, education, travelling psychology, writing, anatomy, evolution, history, Wikipedia etc. The book probably is not a traditional novel - more like a diary kept by a traveler with a wide range of curiosities and who is as ficklish with what she writes as she is flighty with her feet.

Often a review is just an excuse to quote from the book and this review is one of those excuses.

Of Schools

"Here we were taught that the world could be described, and even explained, by means of simple answers to intelligent questions. That in its essence the world was inert and dead, governed by fairly simple laws that needed to be explained and made public – if possible with the aid of diagrams. We were required to do experiments. To formulate hypotheses. To verify. We were inducted into the mysteries of statistics, taught to believe that equipped with such a tool we would be able to perfectly describe all the workings of the world – that ninety per cent is more significant than five."

Of writing novels

"Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel knows what an arduous task it is, undoubtedly one of the worst ways of occupying oneself. You have to remain within yourself all the time, in solitary confinement. It’s a controlled psychosis, an obsessive paranoia manacled to work, completely lacking in the feather pens and bustles and Venetian masks we would ordinarily associate with it, clothed instead in a butcher’s apron and rubber boots, eviscerating knife in hand. You can only barely see from that writerly cellar the feet of passers-by, hear the rapping of their heels. Every so often someone stops and bends down and glances in through the window, and then you get a glimpse of a human face, maybe even exchange a few words. But ultimately the mind is so occupied with its own act, a play staged by the self for the self in a hasty, makeshift cabinet of curiosities peopled by author and character, narrator and reader, the person describing and the person being described, that feet, shoes, heels, and faces become, sooner or later, mere components of that act. "

About Wikipedia

"As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project. It is frank about the fact that all the information we have about the world comes straight out of our own heads, like Athena out of Zeus’s. People bring to Wikipedia everything they know. If the project succeeds, then this encyclopaedia undergoing perpetual renewal will be the greatest wonder of the world. It has everything we know in it – every thing, definition, event, and problem our brains have worked on; we shall cite sources, provide links."

About traveling alone

"An old friend of mine once told me how he hated travelling alone. His gripe was: when he sees something out of the ordinary, something new and beautiful, he so wants to share it with someone that he becomes deeply unhappy if there’s no one around.

I doubt he would make a good pilgrim."

Stendhal Syndrome

"There is a certain well-known syndrome named after Stendhal in which one arrives in a place known from literature or art and experiences it so intensely that one grows weak or faints. There are those who boast they have discovered places totally unknown, and then we envy them for experiencing the truest reality even very fleetingly before that place, like all the rest, is absorbed by our minds."

About obsession

"Obsession is, in any case, the premonition of the existence of an individual language, an irreproducible language through the attentive use of which we will be able to uncover the truth. We must follow this premonition into regions that to others might seem absurd and mad. I don’t know why this language of truth sounds angelic to some, while to others it changes into mathematical signs or notations. But there are also those to whose whim it speaks in a very strange way."

About Logic

"I want to know, and not give in to logic. What do I care about a proof from the outside, framed as a geometric argument? It provides merely a semblance of logical consequence and of an order pleasing to the mind."

About telling tales

"Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is never possible to fully control. They require people like me – insecure, indecisive, easily led astray. Naive."

Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books818 followers
July 28, 2020
Panopticon is a word Tokarczuk uses six times in this work. It’s one of those words I never remember the meaning of, and I had to look it up each time I came across it. Most dictionaries define it similar to this: “a circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed,” but it could be any building, or room, arranged in a way that all parts of the interior are visible from a single point. Its other, earlier, definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an optical instrument combining the telescope and microscope.” The etymology of panopticon concerns two Greek words, one meaning “all” and the other, “sight,” “seeing.” I’ll remember the word now.

Under a scope of any size, fragments (of any size) are examined separately before a big picture can come into focus. In the first-person narrator’s words: …each [fragment] contributes to the order of the whole, though you wouldn’t know it looking at each one on its own… She's describing a way of learning here, but it also describes this book.


The book’s stories are fragmented—mysterious, untidy—like life. Later in the work, the narrator says: Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is never possible to fully control. They require people like me—insecure, indecisive, easily led astray. Naïve.


To the “question” of whether this is a novel or not, I would say, it’s not not-a-novel.


Can you tell I don’t know how to review this book? All I can offer are fragments, and the statement that the breadth and range of this work are extraordinary.
Profile Image for Barbara.
286 reviews248 followers
March 12, 2021
"I realized that - in spite of all the risks, a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity."

Flights, retitled by me as "Musings on Assorted Movement, Travel, Body Parts and Other Stuff". Tokarczuk's book changes the conventional definition of a novel; it is not linear. There are no endings. It does not flow, nor was that ever the intention of the author. Flights is a compilation of puzzle pieces with many of the pieces feeling like they belong to an entirely different puzzle. And yet, its uniqueness is brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.

This is a book that cannot adequately be described by a review; it must be experienced. To say it is only about traveling on boats, trains, planes, or going on a pilgrimage would indicate superficiality. It is not. The many vignettes on preserving body parts, displaying and viewing preserved organs and the obsession of those who are passionate about this science might seem disturbing or even deranged. It is not. In the hands of a less talented author I believe these seemingly unrelated pieces would not work.

It is ironic that Tokarczuk intersperses maps from the Agile Rabbit Book of Historical and Curious Maps. Maps help us reach our destination, find our way. You begin at one point and end at another, very linear. Flights has travel without a final destination.

I felt O.T. was often speaking through the narrator. "I was able to concentrate and became for some tine a sort of gargantuan ear that listened to murmurs and echoes and whispers, far off voices that filtered through the walls. Life eluded me. I'd only ever find its tracks, the skin it sloughed off. By the time I have determined its location, it had already gone somewhere else. And all I'd find were signs that it had been there." This quote is a good synopsis of the book. I also could hear Janina from Drive Your Plows Over the Bones of the Dead speaking (also O.T.?) Like the narrator, O.T. must have an uncanny ability to hear, see, sense others. So many observations are fresh and accurate. Often I felt the narrator, O.T. or both, had gotten into my head. There is an honesty and openness to these pieces. Strange? Yes. Confusing? Yes, but always beautifully written, sometimes funny and somehow easy to relate to.

I do not always agree with the merits of award winning books, but I think they got it right with Flights. This book is a journey to an unknown destination with side trips and bumps in the road. Whether you reach a destination or not, you will always be glad you had the experience.

"Sway go on, move. He who rules the world has no power over movement and knows that our body in motion is holy. So go. Sway, walk, runs take flight. Whoever pauses will be petrified."

"Mobility is reality."
July 21, 2020
Ένα από τα πιο ιδιαίτερα βιβλία που έχω διαβάσει!Ξεκίνησα την ανάγνωσή του από τον ευχαριστήριο λόγο της συγγραφέως όταν παρέλαβε το βραβείο Νόμπελ,ο οποίος βρίσκεται στο τέλος του βιβλίου.Ήθελα να έρθω σε επαφή με τον λόγο και το ύφος της.Μου άρεσε πάρα πολύ τόσο το περιεχόμενο όσο και ο τρόπος εκφοράς του.Το κυρίως κείμενο τώρα: η Τοκάρτσουκ κάνει πράξη την μεγάλη αλήθεια κάθε συγγραφέα,να αφηγείται δηλαδή ιστορίες.Ο τρόπος γραφής είναι αποσπασματικός και ημερολογιακός,ωστόσο γλαφυρός και κάποιες φορές ποιητικός.Δεν υπάρχει μία κοινή υπόθεση,ένας κεντρικός ήρωας κτλ. Το βιβλίο αποτελείται μόνο από ιστορίες που άκουσε ή φαντάστηκε η συγγραφέας και θέλει να μας αφηγηθεί ή καλύτερα να μοιραστεί μαζί μας.Τι είναι ένα ταξίδι; Τι κοινό έχει με το σώμα μας και τις αλήθειες που κρύβει;Οι χάρτες τι ρόλο παίζουν στη ζωή μας;Τι είναι τελικά οι πλάνητες;Μια αέναη κίνηση του Εγώ προς αναζήτηση ποιου;
Υπήρχαν σημεία/κεφάλαια που ξεχώρισα και άλλα που ε��θουσιάστηκα, άλλα που βαρέθηκα και άλλα που θύμωσα.Το μόνο σίγουρο είναι ότι αυτό το βιβλίο δεν αφήνει τον αναγνώστη αδιάφορο.Δεν μπορείς να το αφήσεις από τα χέρια σου,όσο και αν σε μπερδεύει στην αρχή,καθώς πρέπει να βρεις τον ρυθμό του σκοπού της συγγραφέως.Να τονιστεί τέλος ότι η μετάφραση είναι εκπληκτική και σε βοηθάει να εισχωρήσεις στις σκέψεις της Τοκάρτσουκ.
Profile Image for Maria Bikaki.
806 reviews410 followers
February 6, 2021
“Ξύπνα, κουνήσου, κουνήσου. Μόνο έτσι θα του ξεφύγεις. Αυτός που ορίζει τον κόσμο δεν έχει εξουσία πάνω στην κίνηση, ξέρεις πως το σώμα μας εν κινήσει είναι ιερό, μόνο τότε μπορείς να του ξεφύγεις, μόνο αν κινείσαι. Αυτός εξουσιάζει μόνο το ακίνητο, παγωμένο.
Οπότε κουνήσου, σήκω, τραμπαλίσου, περπάτα, τρέχα, ξέφυγε, μόλις ξεχαστείς και σταματήσεις, θα σε πιάσει στα χέρια του, θα σε μετατρέψει σε μαριονέτα, θα σε τυλίξει η ανάσα του που μυρίζει καπνό και καυσαέρια και χωματερές. Θα μετατρέψει την πολύχρωμη ψυχή σοτυ σε μια μικρή, επίπεδη ψυχούλα, θα σε απειλεί με φωτιά, αρρώστια και πόλεμο, θα σε φοβίζει μέχρι να χάσεις την ηρεμία σου και να μην μπορείς να κοιμηθείς πια. Θα σε μαρκάρει και θα σε γράψει στα κατάστιχα του, θα σου δώσει το αποδεικτικό της κατάρρευσης του. Θ’ απασχολήσει τις σκέψεις σου με ασήμαντα πράγματα, τι θα βρεις φτηνότερα, που ακριβότερα. Από κείνη τη στιγμήθα στενοχωριέσαι με κουταμάρες. Θα ζεις την κάθε μέρα με πόνο σαν να ζούσες τιμωρημένη και δε θα μάθεις ποτέ ποιος διέπραξε το έγκλημα, ποιο και ποτέ”.

Μακράν η πιο επώδυνη αναγνωστική εμπειρία που είχα ποτέ. Το βιβλίο που δοκίμασε πολλάκις τα όρια της αναγνωστικής μου αντοχής, που μου τσάκισε το μυαλό, που κατά διαστήματα με διέλυσε στην προσπάθεια να διατηρήσω την προσήλωση μου και το οποίο πολύ ειλικρινά δε θα το πρότεινα σε κανένα.
Για να μην παρεξηγηθώ το πλάνητες είναι ένα αληθινά μοναδικό επίτευγμα. Το βιβλίο εκείνο που γράφεται κάθε 100 χρόνια που λένε, οκ το κάθε εκατό δείτε το λίγο και ως υπερβολή προς εξυπηρέτηση της κριτικής. Είναι ένα βιβλίο που αξίζει σε κάθε περίπτωση τον έπαινο του αναγνώστη για το μέγεθος της έρευνας και της διαφορετικότητας του. Ένα βιβλίο με το οποίο δύσκολα θα αισθανθείς οικειότητα από την αρχή. Ένα βιβλίο που μπορεί να σε πονέσει στην προσπάθεια του να το αγαπήσεις και που η συγγραφέας του δεν ακολουθεί καμιά από τις πετυχημένες μανιέρες που θα κάνουν ένα βιβλίο μπεστ σέλερ.
Σε μια περίοδο που ο κόσμος πλήττεται από την πανδημία του covid19 όπου η ζωή δείχνει να έχει σταματήσει, το ίδιο και τα ταξίδια είναι μάλλον παράδοξο για να μη χρησιμποιήσω άλλη λέξη να διαβάζεις ένα βιβλίο που οι σελίδες του καταγράφουν την κίνηση όταν οι ίδιοι βρισκόμαστε σε πλήρη αδράνεια και στασιμότητα.
Το πλάνητες λοιπόν που πολύ ειλικρινά μέχρι να το διαβάσω ορκιζόμουν ότι το λένε πλανήτες είναι μια μάλλον φιλοσοφική ανατομία για το ταξίδι και το χωχοχρόνο και ουσιαστικά μια ανάλυση γιατί ο άνθρωπος είναι κατά βάση προορισμένος να κινείται και να μη μένει στατικός. To να είσαι άλλωστε συνέχεια σε κίνηση είναι ένα σημάδι ζωής Ήρωες διαφορετικοί και τοποθετημένοι ακόμα και σε διαφορετικές εποχές μοιάζουν να συνδέονται μεταξύ τους. Σε μια σειρά πολλών αυτοτελών ιστοριών θα βρεις πολλές απαντήσεις και σκέψεις και αντίστοιχα πολλές αναλύσεις περισσότερο μεταφυσικές και επιστημονικές που θα σου είναι δύσκολο να «χωνέψεις»
Ένας ιδιαίτερα πρωτότυπος ταξιδιωτικός οδηγός. Οι διάσπαρτες αφηγηματικές ιστορίες ήταν το δυνατό κομμάτι του βιβλίου για τα δικά μου πάντα γούστα. Ιστορίες ανθρώπινες και βαθιά συγκινητικές αρκετές από αυτές. Νομίζω ότι το βιβλίο αυτό είναι ίσως και ένα χαρακτηριστικό δείγμα ότι η λογοτεχνία αλλάζει. Αλλάζει και ευνοεί την συγγραφή βιβλίων χωρίς ουσιαστική πλοκή και απλά θα πρέπει να είσαι μεγαλος δεξιοτέχνης να μην ξεχάσεις απ΄όλα τα συστατικά που θα χρησιμοποιήσεις στην περίπτωση της συγγραφέως αφήγηση, δοκίμιο, φιλοσοφία, ανατομία και αυτό εκείνο το συστατικό που θα σου νοστιμίσει τη συνταγή.
Κλείνοντας για να μην σας κουράζω το πλάνητες για μένα ήταν μια πρόκληση. Ένα ενδιαφέρον πείραμα που δεν εχω απαντήσει ακόμα στον εαυτό μου αν πέτυχε. Το βρήκα ειλικρινά ευφάνταστο, σε κατά τόπους αφηγήσεις και περιγραφές και ήταν αυτές που με έσπρωχναν να συνεχίσω όταν το μυαλό είχε κουραστεί όμω�� πολύ ειλικρινά δεν είμαι σίγουρη ότι κατάλαβα απόλυτα τον αντίκτυπο του και δε θα ξαναδοκίμαζα σύντομα μια τόσο οδυνηρή εμπειρία. Το οδυνηρή διευκρινίζω ότι αναφέρεται αποκλειστικά και μόνο στη δυσκολία προσήλωσης και συγκέντρωσης και όχι στη αναγνώριση της ευφυΐας και της διαφορετικότητας του. Προφανώς η δική μου ευφυΐα δεν έφτασε μέχρι εκεί. No big deal. Thank you next Olga.

Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,158 followers
July 25, 2018
Bieguni (Flights) is an unusual novel ... Some parts are most amazing and I simply couldn't put Bieguni down, though I admit the beginning was not easy. The idea of constant movement, flights, journeys ...
Profile Image for Warwick.
844 reviews14.6k followers
June 20, 2019
This should have been a winner. A book all about the creative possibilities of travel, mixing writer's notebooks, microfiction, and bursts of historical commentary? Count me in!

Like Olga Tokarczuk, I am someone who has never been good at putting down roots, and I strongly related to her early credo: ‘My energy derives from movement – from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains' and ferries' rocking.’ And I also share, with her, the (completely unjustified) sense of the redemptive powers of writing. ‘The narrated sin will be forgiven,’ she says hopefully. ‘The narrated life, saved.’

On top of all these points of connection, I even read Flights in ideal circumstances. My copy is Pollocked with purple from where I sat with it over a bowl of barszcz in a Kraków bistro, smudged with fingerprints from when I gripped it too tightly during a bumpy landing in Munich, creased across the back cover after I fell asleep on it during a soporific train ride to Bern. It should have been a perfect meeting of reader and author!

But the jumble of different sections, instead of feeling productive, just struck me as scatty; I never quite gelled together the themes of travel and human anatomy; and the fragments of novellas left me vaguely unsatisfied and, to be honest, a little bored. I feel bad about this because Olga Tokarczuk has done something interesting and admirable with this book, and because Jennifer Croft has turned it into a lovely conversational English – but there you go. Perhaps next time I try her, one of us will have changed (and change will, as she reminds us, ‘always be a nobler thing than permanence’).
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
978 reviews1,223 followers
December 2, 2018
A very 00s, pre-recessionary book. I daresay that's part of the reason for its recent success in the world of English-translated literary prizes. It must be a break from current political stresses for many judges and readers, evoking a liberal prelapsarian time when it never occurred to middle-class frequent travellers with an internationalist outlook that not everyone aspired to or admired their way of life - and when there weren't the grinding financial worries that would emerge for so many in the Global North shortly after its 2007 publication. A time when it didn't seem entirely silly to say: "Soon we may well say that it’s the cities that supplement the airports, as workplaces and places to sleep." In this book from over ten years ago. it is still possible to feel that, when travelling, one is off the radar, inbetween real life and real places: there isn't the always-on wifi and the expectation of being in touch 24/7. Its contemporary elements include, subtly or overtly the travel subculture and its attitudes, things like They weren’t real travellers: they left in order to return. - although unlike many of the travel culture's real-life proponents, Tokarczuk does occasionally mention the environmental impact of flying.

Many of Flights' characters evoke British political writer David Goodhart's frequently cited concept of "anywheres" versus "somewheres" (an explanation for Brexit and similar political shifts). This book is all about "anywheres":
Mostly wealthy tourists, Americans, Germans, Brits, and also those who had lost – in the free flow of money, which they let guide them – any and all defining traits. They were simply attractive, healthy, moving with unsummoned ease from language to language.
In the book's take on 'travel psychology', there are three progressive phases of psychological development in the traveller growing used to waking up away from home - starting with the assumption that one is at home, through the bewilderment at 'I don't know where I am' - to the enlightened ‘It Doesn’t Matter Where I Am,’ it makes no difference. I’m here..

I was fortunate to read Flights late in the year - not in the spring at the time of the Booker International list - and thanks to earlier GR reviewers went into it forewarned about inaccuracies, both those that are strongly contradicted by personal experience, such as the alleged absence of the over-40s from tourist hostels, and errors of factual knowledge across domains including physics, neurology and history. This meant that I always read any unfamiliar, apparently-factual material with some scepticism. I looked up things at times to check, but was not always sufficiently invested in the book to do so thoroughly. (There are stories and passages in Flights which are too much like bog-standard English-language litfic about middle-class families. As one of those readers who likes translated fiction to introduce a little strangeness to English and to fiction, and who reads it to get away from that sort of mundane contemporary British or American novel, this was not my sort of thing. [Have been trying to remember where I got that 'strangeness' from - thought it was a Tim Parks article but searching suggests not.] Although I enjoyed Flights to an extent that would merit 4 stars, the factual errors mean it gets no more than 3. Its reach is polymathic, but it stands up poorly against major 'encyclopaedic' novels that contain significantly fewer mistakes (although it's rare one of these books is found to have none, once let loose for a few years on a reading public with specialist degrees in many subjects. Paid reviewers in the press ought to have the job of thoroughly checking such material in novels they cover, but sadly this doesn't seem to be done.) It is disappointing, too, when there are readers who seek encyclopaedic novels by erudite women, not to be able to recommend this one more strongly due to the number of mistakes. If the 'factual' material were coming from a character's stream of consciousness, it could be fitting (although the errors should really be indicated in some way for the benefit of readers who wouldn't know or check) as there is a Jungian / 'woo' inflection to the book at times, and sometimes a chatty, vague style, which would sit well with half-remembered impressions of facts read years ago.

Tokarczuk has described Flights as a 'constellation novel', probably a new term in English, although the novel of fragments or volume of linked short stories is not a new form. If you enjoy noticing when apparently unrelated books you've read recently mention the same obscure fact, event or motif, you will likely get some fun out of Flights. Its ostensibly separate stories and passages - a mixture of apparently semi-autobiographical anecdotes, contemporary and historical fiction, jottings and epiphanies - are pulled together by similar minor connections. It's inevitably linear on the page (and it would be intriguing to hear how Tokarczuk decided the order for the pieces), but in ideaspace it has the shape of a 3D network diagram, with links between multiple nodes. On a small scale it is like an internet, although the web is only a minor feature in Flights. (An early internet /hypertext novel, 253 by Geoff Ryman (1998) - which I enjoyed more than most people on GR - also took the theme of travel, specifically a London Tube journey and its passengers: the loose structure and sense of movement associated with travel evidently suits these unconventional formats.)

The most apparently impressive connection made in the book is perhaps fictional: that an Italian soprano who sung at Chopin's funeral (his heart having already been removed to be taken to Poland) was also in Vienna during the 1848 revolution in which Angelo Soliman's body, stuffed for display without his consent, was destroyed. I can find nothing about 'Graziella Panini' outside references to Tokarczuk's book - though if someone reading this post has a biography of Chopin which goes into detail about his funeral, they may be able to check if she was mentioned. This string of events is connected to the book's other major theme, anatomy. It is not one I enjoy or find pleasant - but Flights did at least, unlike any other work previously, prompt me to think more rationally about why that might be, when I agree with people knowing and learning it as a topic, and also about its importance in the history of medicine - even if it is not in anatomy but in physiology where advances are still obviously required to understand medical phenomena.

There is some that tinge of exoticisation / orientalism, here of various Asian and North African settings, which is quite common in East European literature (e.g. Cărtărescu, Krasznahorkai) and less examined than it would be in British or North American literary fiction of the same vintage - part of a culture in which this is not discussed and flagged up to the same extent, and where these writers are already notably more liberal than average for their countries.

I once planned to read Tokarczuk's books in English in chronological order. And so far I've read two of them in reverse chronological order - which provided the unexpected fun of spotting motifs from Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009) emerging in Flights two years earlier. There is the 'invisbility' and anonymity of older women: For example, if something crazy were to happen, nobody on the scene would even remember her having been there, or if they did all they’d say would be, ‘some woman’, or ‘somebody else was over there…’; vegetarianism and environmental issues (although Tokarczuk is a member of the Polish Green Party, so these may be perennial in her books); canine [wolf] headed persons reported by early travel writers; and most copiously, an unconventional detective story.

The detective story was the main element that motivated me to keep going enthusiastically through the book; anticipating a resolution near the end (having looked at chapter titles) sustained my interest and goodwill towards the rest of the narrative. And then there wasn't one! This is actually flagged up in Flights' UK blurb, but I hadn't read it properly. It meant that, although these days, in Kunicki's shoes I probably would have let the absence go, assuming a decent store of prior trust and goodwill, I found myself empathising with his frustration and nagging, because I'd read about ¾ of the bloody book waiting for this information too. I was fed up with the narrative for the next several chapters but was eventually back on board after some apposite lines quoted near the beginning of this post.

Whilst it's necessary to have some alertness to notice the connections between stories or vignettes in Flights, most of the pieces of writing are not as intellectually dense as I'd assumed from others' reviews of the book. Some GR posters have said Drive Your Plow is an easier book than Flights, but I would say it is a similar level of difficulty, wearing its learning more lightly but with plenty to uncover for those who've read relevant material (one GR friend pointed out connections to Derrida, which I never would have noticed). Plow is more focused and tightly constructed, and better for it IMO. Flights, like the later book, has paragraphs of intense observation and philosophical musings, although here, there are more of them, and their failure / fancifulness rate is higher. Similarly, there are passages of gorgeous description in Flights - the chapter on plastic bags, described as if they were a species, is outstanding and perversely beautiful - but also some which are a little flat compared with those in the shorter novel. I still find Olga Tokarczuk very likeable: I just wish this book had had more editing, especially fact checking when it was first published. (Factual errors are generally not altered for translation, especially not in fiction.)
Profile Image for Odai Al-Saeed.
876 reviews2,494 followers
December 1, 2019
اننا نتحدث عن رواية تحصد جائزة نوبل للآداب ومن ثم البوكر العالمية لنفس العام (2018)...ليست رواية بقدر ما هي موسوعة تجوب أعين القارئ ومن خلالها يتصفح أبجديات الأوقات المفقودة المهدرة في المطارات والحنين والشوق عند حواف المرافئ لمتلازمات تخوض فيها الكاتبة وتنبش القلوب بأسلوب جديد وتكنيك لم يجرب فيه سرد كهذا.... هذا السرد الذي يحتوي على بوهيمية مثقلة بتفاصيل مفرطة ومسارات تتشعب تفضي أحيانا الى شتات وذهول.. رواية كهذه يجب أن تدرس أبجدياتها قبل الب��ء في قرآتها المهيبة
تمتد فيها ساحات شائعة من الإسهاب الفلسفي المصاحب للغة متقنة صعبة لا مجال فيها للتخطي ففي كل جملة يتولد شك لا يدحض دليله الا بتقصي الجملة التي تليه لذا فما يقال هنا سوف يصبح سرا شخصيا يفهمه القارئ بطريقته و يتقاسمه مع الراوي ... رواية تتخطى مستوى الأذهان وتتطلب التركيز المروع

ملاحظة: تعقيبا لمداخلة صديقي الكاتب الأديب طاهر الزهراني بخصوص ما تضمنه التقرير السابق عن رواية رحالة جعلني أراجع بعض الأمور التي تستدعي الذكر حتي لا يضلل القارئ وفمنذ اللحظة الأولى التي تلتمس فيها المشاعر مع كتوب النص سوف نجد أن الكاتبة لن تنتمي الى أمكنة محددة فهي تتناثر ووفق دواعي التشظي توثق معانيها فلا ارتباط معين بين النصوص التي جاءت على هيئة مقالات أقرب منها الى سرد روائي أيضا وفي لمحة عابرة للأديب تاج السر يقول أنها استمتع ببعض مقالات منها وهو ما يشي أيضا بأنه كان أمام نص مبعثر وبويهيمي ... هذه اللغة التجريبية للنص لن تروق الى ذلك الجمهور الكلاسيكي الذي اعتاد الحبحة السردية في تناوله للحدث كما أن العمل يمكن أن يوثق بمنظور يختلف في الرؤية من شخص الى آخر واضعين بعين الاعتبار المخزون الثقافي لمن يقرأ لذا وجب التنويه
Profile Image for Pedro.
198 reviews436 followers
March 5, 2021
I don’t think “Flights” was the best choice of a title for this book. I mean, in Portugal it has been translated as “Viagens” (travelling in English) and after checking the original title, it seems to me to be a much more accurate one, as “Bieguni” refers to wandering; wandering around with no specific destination. See? Why “Flights” then?!

I do understand these kind of marketing choices but sometimes they really bug me. Especially in cases like this one where I think it pays the book a disservice. Bah!

It would be so so much easier to understand this book if people were going into it with the idea of just wandering around, exploring and trying to see the world as it is instead of how they think it should be.


That’s my general idea about Olga Tokarczuk (am I ever going to write her surname right without double checking??); I see her as a very open-minded person. And very intelligent too. And extremely honest, by the way.

Well, in fact, and this might sound a bit weird, after finishing Tokarczuk’s novels I feel like I admire her even more as a “normal person” than as the wonderful writer that she is (yes, this is a big compliment).

Filghts is not a novel in the pure sense of the word. There’s no plot and no character development either. What you’re going to get by picking it up is a meandering and philosophical travel memoir/diary of sorts.

A bite-sized snack of a book, that you could swallow whole.

I couldn’t stop reading it. In fact, as with Drive your Plow, I believe I read it too fast. I can only blame the author for such delightful writing. And for always making me feel like I still have a lot more to learn.

With Tokarczuk nothing is as simple and straightforward as it seems at first glance. Everything, every word has a purpose, a place and a meaning. Even silence between words. Or silence alone.
Profile Image for Mohammed.
447 reviews580 followers
August 30, 2023
قد يوحي لك العنوان بأن الرحالة هي كاتبة الرواية، لكنك عندما تفرغ منها ستكتشف أنك كنت الرحالة متنقلاً من قصة إلى أخرى، مرتحلاً بين الأفكار والمواضيع والشخصيات.

من قال أن السرد الحديث يخضع للقوانين؟ فلتنس أن للرواية مقدمة وذروة وتنوير، هذ أسلوب عاف عليه الزمن. بل ولا تتوقع أن يخضع النص لتنصيف واحد أو تيمة معينة. فقد يكون لدينا كتاب شطره سيرة ذاتية، وجزء منه قصص من التاريخ وآخر ينسج حكايات من وحي الخيال، حتى أن هناك نقلاً مجتزاً لمحاضرة ما. كما قلنا: لا قواعد هنا! قد نبدأ قصة ونتركها بنهاية مفتوحة، نستهل أخرى ونختمها بطريقة مُرضية، ثم واحدة نبترها في المنتصف لنكملها لاحقاً. هذه مأساوية، وتلك ملهمة والثالثة غريبة. الوضع مطمئن طالما أنه لا توجد شرطة لحماية السرد. فلن يعتقل أحد الكاتب ولا القارئ بسبب تلك التقنيات.

تترك أولغا توكارتشوك نفسها على سجيتها وهي تكتب. تحكي لنا ما يشغل حيزاً من تفكيرها ابتداءً من السفر، علم النفس، الفلسفة، التشريح، العلاقات الزوجية، وغير ذلك. بعض الأجزاء ممتع حتى الثمالة مقارنة بالبعض الآخر. سيُجهد ذهنك وأنت تحاول ربط القطع الفسيفسائية في تيمة واحدة أو فكرة بعينها، دعني أخبرك بأن ذلك سيفقدك متعة النص. أعتبر نفسك في طائرة، لا تستطيع توجيه ملاحها ولا العودة ولا حتى التوقف. ستشهق قليلاً أحياناً من الإثارة، ستُفاجئ بهذا المنعطف أو ذاك، قد يعتريك الإرهاق أو يساورك الندم في لحظات، غير أنه لن يكون بمقدورك تقييم الرحلة بشكل صحيح حتى تهبط في مدرج الوصول.

نص متميز لا يُنصح به لمن يفضلون السرد التقليدي.
Profile Image for Tony.
920 reviews1,556 followers
September 23, 2018
If you need labels, you might wonder what to call this: a novel, a fiction, a farrago? But this is too special for labels. Think instead that your whole life has been a journey. A reading journey, yes; but also a ledger of acquisitions and of lost things. At another - this – intersection, you find . . .

A mind for charades, a mind that employed citations and cross-references like knife and fork. A rational and discursive mind, lonely and sterile. A mind that seemed to be aware of everything, even things it didn’t really understand, but that moved fast—a quick, intelligent electric impulse without limits, linking everything with everything, convinced that all of it together must mean something, even if we couldn’t yet know what.

You might hope for answers. But an answer is just another label.

In one vignette, in this book of stitched together vignettes, a woman leaves her husband and her physically dependent child, and rides the trains, for a respite, maybe longer. She sees a homeless woman - the shrouded woman - and is drawn to her. What advice sayeth the Oracle? Move. Get going.

Like the title says, Flights.

This is a book of travel, often in airplanes. There are even interspersed lectures on travel psychology. But there are also stories of anatomy throughout and I wondered at the connection. Until . . .

There was Philip Verheyen, in 1689, examining his own amputated leg. He discovered the Achilles tendon that way. But throughout the rest of his monopedic life he suffered from a phantom pain.

And there was Kunicki with his Legs. Feet. Even when he stops, when he sits down, they seem to keep going . . . He’d like to quiet his legs, rub a smoothing ointment into them. . . . He restores his legs to order. Kunicki, too, suffers a a phantom pain. The author actually calls it that. But Kunicki's loss is when his wife takes their child while on a vacation to an island. She leaves the path and cannot be found for days. The why is what aches, what itches for Kunicki.

This book is full of these connecting flights. Like traveling back to a homeland, with Chopin’s heart. Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is never possible to fully control. They require people like me—insecure, indecisive, easily led astray. Naïve.

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Some people are endowed with the ability, nay, the necessity, of always being the last one ready to leave. It is predictable, too, that when you have traveled just far enough that it is impractical to turn around, such a person will say, “I forgot my . . .” Not that I haven’t left a cellphone charger plugged into a hotel outlet. We might be amused/annoyed, even at ourselves.

But if only for a spell, this book has changed my view of the things we left behind. We are not the sum of our vignettes. We are the connections of them. Or the mis-connections. To attend one funeral, but not another.

. . . perhaps it is possible . . . to look into the past, cast our glances backward, imagine it as a panopticon of sorts, or, dear friends, to treat the past as though it still existed, it’s just that it’s been shifted over into another dimension. Maybe all we need to do is change our way of looking, look askance at it all somehow. Because if the future and the past are infinite, then in reality there can be no ‘once upon,’ no ‘back when.’ Different moments in time hang in space like sheets, like screens lit up by one moment; the world is made up of these frozen moments, great meta-images, and we just hop from one to the next.

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This is a wonderful translation and I say that as someone with enough facility in Polish to order a beer and say the second half of the Hail Mary. (Although I can order a beer in a few dozen languages). The voice was real, and maybe best explained by its playfulness, like the use of the fairly scientific term fuckwit and the glib Competition shmompetition. The only thing that threw me was when one character diced parsley. As one wit (not a fuckwit) shared with me, “I’ve never seen parsley in cubes before.”

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It’s still early, but this is my book of the year.
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