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Review: Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Translated for the first time into English,  Flights by Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk, has finally landed.  A beautifully fragmented book, Flights executes a perfect blending of fiction, history, and an undiluted observation of the world at large and of the exceedingly small. The novel’s narration is at times omnipresent and at others, co-piloted by an unnamed but immediately familiar  protagonist. The book  acts as a fulcrum from which readers are transported from one of over a hundred vignettes on to the next—occasionally to return and find that things have inevitably changed, having moved on—as if by flight. A man combs over an entire Croatian isle in search of his missing wife and son.  Another visits the widow of an esteemed colleague in hopes that she will divulge long-kept vocational secrets. Chopin’s heart is smuggled by his sister back to his native Poland. Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen discovers the achilles tendon. The captain of a commuter ferry shuffling unsuspecting passengers turns his helm toward the open sea.

 In one such vignette it is said, “Only what is different will survive.” If those words are to be believed, Tokarczuk will be sustained on such unrivaled and unique writing. As a long-time lover of European novelists such as Milan Kundera and an chronic journeyer my heart leapt with the recognition brought forth by Tokarczuk’s contemplation of modern-day travel. To hear it all rendered by a female voice made me wonder where this translation has been all this time. It was a wonderful read. Flights is a museum of a book; artfully arranged, edifying, fascinating, and insightful.

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