Olga Tokarczuk Wins Man Booker International Prize
#language & literature
default, Olga Tokarczuk, photo: Krzysztof Dubiel for the Polish Book Institute, tokarczuk_0.jpg
On 22nd May 2018, Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft. This is the first time that a Polish writer has won this prestigious prize.
Olga Tokarczuk is one of the most critically acclaimed and most translated Polish writers, with House of Day, House of Night and Primeval and Other Tales being her greatest commercial and critical successes. She lives and works in Wałbrzych in Lower Silesia. An outstanding writer, essayist and a devotee of Jung, she is an authority on philosophy and arcane knowledge. Undeniably a great discovery in Polish literature in the nineties, she continues to be admired by both critics and readers. She is a phenomenon of popularity respected for her good taste, knowledge, literary talent, philosophical depth and knack for storytelling. Tokarczuk, about herself:
To me writing novels is telling fairy tales to oneself, moved to maturity.
Tokarczuk has won numerous awards for her work, including the prestigious Polish awards the Polityka Passport and the Nike Literary Award and the Vilenica International Literary Prize. Her book Drive Your Plough Through the Bones of the Dead was the basis of Agnieszka Holland's award-winning movie Spoor.
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Flights is a novel about travel in the 21st century and human anatomy. From the 17th century, we have the story of the real Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen, who dissected and drew pictures of his own amputated leg, discovering in so doing the Achilles tendon. From the 18th century, we have the story of a North African-born slave turned Austrian courtier stuffed and put on display after his death in spite of his daughter’s ever more desperate protests, as well as 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.
From the present we have the trials and tribulations of a wife accompanying her much older professor husband as he teaches a course on a cruise ship in the Greek islands, the quest of a Polish woman who emigrated to New Zealand as a teenager but must now return to Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, and the slow descent into madness of a young husband whose wife and child mysteriously vanished on a vacation on a Croatian island and then appeared again with no explanation.
Through these narratives, interspersed with short bursts of analysis and digressions on topics ranging from travel-sized cosmetics to the Maori, Tokarczuk guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and towards the core of the very nature of humankind.
Tokarczuk is the first Polish writer to be awarded the Man Booker International Prize. Sci-fi master Stanisław Lem was nominated for the first edition of award in 2005, and novelist Wioletta Greg (Wioletta Grzegorzewska) was nominated in 2017 for her book Swallowing Mercury, translated by Eliza Marciniak.
Wioletta Greg Makes the Man Booker Prize Longlist
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This year’s shortlist included:
- Virginie Despentes (France) Vernon Subutex 1, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press)
- Han Kang (South Korea), The White Book, translated by Deborah Smith (Portobello Books)
- László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), The World Goes On, translated by John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes (Tuskar Rock Press)
- Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain), Like a Fading Shadow, translated by Camilo A. Ramirez (Tuskar Rock Press)
- Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated by Jonathan Wright (Oneworld)
- Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
The Man Booker International Prize was presented to Olga Tokarczuk on 22nd May 2018 during an award ceremony in London.