Winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, 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?
It’s a busy, beautiful vexation, this novel, a quiver full of fables of pilgrims and pilgrimages ... The narrator, coolly evasive in the way of Rachel Cusk’s heroine in the Outline trilogy, relishes how travel and growing older allow her to become invisible ... Interspersed with the narrator’s journey is a constellation of discrete stories that share rhyming motifs and certain turns of phrase. These vignettes often have the flavor of case studies ... Shaggy maximalism is the ethic and aesthetic of Flights. It is thronged with plots and subplots ... it feels impossible to connect to characters no sooner conjured than whisked away and replaced. Monotony settles in; we read at a remove, which feels cruel given that Tokarczuk’s aim is so clearly to train the eye to see more deeply ... Still, as plots ramify and the cast grows, the individual vignettes are themselves sculpted, and anchoring. In Jennifer Croft’s assured translation, each self-enclosed account is tightly conceived and elegantly modulated, the language balletic, unforced. And Tokarczuk has a canny knack for reading the reader, for anticipating your criticisms.
It is a novel of intuitions as much as ideas, a cacophony of voices and stories seemingly unconnected across time and space, which meander between the profound and the facetious, the mysterious and the ordinary, and whose true register remains one of glorious ambiguity ... Flights has echoes of WG Sebald, Milan Kundera, Danilo Kiš and Dubravka Ugrešić, but Tokarczuk inhabits a rebellious, playful register very much her own ... Flights is a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness.
Flights, by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (Riverhead), is exciting in the way that unclassifiable things are exciting—that is to say, at times confoundingly so. It is intermittently a work of fiction, but it is also an exercise in theory, cultural anthropology, and memoir ... Those sections saturated in the author’s Polishness are the most poignant and meaningful in the book. The cabinet of curiosities, glittering with all kinds of marvels, is just to be browsed; the travelling reader moves through it and past it. But, like the author, we snag on that Polish word, and its suggestion of cold oilcloth, garden tomatoes, and stove fumes. Such episodes deliberately complicate the book’s exaltation of mobility and its freedoms.