Focus on Flights - Man Booker International Prize 2018

Large olga tokarczuk flights

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world. The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible, and the writer and translator are rewarded equally for their contribution.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.


Flights is a novel about travel in the 21st century and human anatomy. It includes the story of Chopin’s heart as it makes the covert journey from Paris to Warsaw, stored in a tightly sealed jar beneath his sister’s skirt.

Flights guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and towards the core of the very nature of humankind.

Get involved

Have you read Flights? Do you want to know what other readers thought? You can read in-depth reviews from our shadow reading group, or leave your own.

Want to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for Flights, including information about the author and translator, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Want ideas on what to read next? We’ve created a supporting booklist with suggestions of other books that you might like to try if you enjoyed Flights, including books with similar locations, writing styles or genres.

The view from Gloucester Book Club

Gloucester Book Club are one of the brilliant reading groups shadowing the prize this year, and have been reading Flights. Read about their experience:

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“Our group was given a fantastic opportunity to be part of The Reading Agency’s project to shadow the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

Our allocated book was Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft, 410 pages to read and review. Flights turned out to be the winner of the Prize for 2018!

The book seems to be a collection of observations, essays, letters, short stories and snippets bearing little or no relation to surrounding pieces, but skillfully guides the reader through arcane corners of knowledge.

The book’s themes revolve around “the nomadic life that we now lead in the world with our constant movement, our constant desire to pick up and go, whether it’s from relationships or whether it’s to other countries” and “the limitedness, the finiteness, the mortality of the human body which is always pulled towards the ground”.

Tokarczuk calls Flights her ‘constellation’ novel. She’s known in Poland for her mythical prose style, and Jennifer Croft, to her credit, seems to have beautifully translated this quality into English.

Flights can only be described as a ‘Marmite’ experience in our group. Beautiful, challenging and dense – everyone seemed to enjoy parts of the book, but only a minority scored it very highly and enjoyed its style throughout. The short stories were well written but for some they were frustrating in their unresolved endings.

Some group members found the travel theme resonated with their own emotions and excitement experienced when travelling. The maps included turned out to be an integral and important part of the book. Many of us felt we should have paid them more attention on our journey through.

A few felt the novel needed explanation when perhaps it shouldn’t and some commented that it seemed self-indulgent; others did not find it a difficult read but they did find it difficult to understand.

On the other hand, some members found it astonishing, beautifully written, engaging, complex, and powerfully observed.

We will remember this novel for a long time and we would like to thank The Reading Agency for selecting us and giving us the opportunity to read something we wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. We have all gained something from the experience and look forward to participating in further projects.”

Read their individual reviews.


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