2018 Man Booker International Prize goes to her for her novel “Flights”

The famous Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the most prestigious literary award

The famous Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the most prestigious literary award, the  International Prize for her novel “Flights” Lisa Appignanesi OBE, Chair of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize jury expressed her acclaim: “Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In “Flights”, Ms Tokarczuk flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament – where only plastic escapes mortality”.

“Flights” is a philosophical treatise on modern journeys. Olga Tokarczuk will share the £50,000 prize with Jennifer Croft, the English translator of the book. The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary prizes not only in British culture, but also in the whole literary world. Every year, the award is given to the “Best original novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom”. The organisation that awards the Man Booker prize for fiction also chooses the Man Booker International Prize winner. In 2018, the award was also opened to Irish publishers. Launched way back in 1969, PH Newby was the first writer to win the prestigious award for his novel “Something to answer for”. The original name of Olga Tokarczuk’s Polish novel is “Bieguni”, published in 2008, and it was translated by Jennifer Croft and entitled “Flights” in English. “Flights” tells stories of journeys, mobility and movement and makes it a metaphor for life itself. The Polish writer plays with what readers understand as conventional form of novel.

Olga presents different stories, like mapping out the posthumous journey of the heart of Polish composer Chopin to Warsaw from Paris, where he died; or the journey of the anatomist Philip Verheyen who writes letters to his amputated leg and then interlaces them with short bursts of digressions, anecdotes and analyses. “Flights” is Olga Tokarczuk’s third book translated into English. In 2008, Olga won the highest Polish literary award, the Nike Literary Award for “Bieguni (Flights)”. Nagroda Literacka Nike – The Nike Literary Award is one of the most prestigious for Polish literature. The award was established in 1997 and financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and by the consulting company NICOM. It is given annually to the best book of a single living author, written in Polish, published the year before. A few years later, Olga won the Nike Literary Award 2015 with “Ksiegi Jakubowe” – “The books of Jacob” . The novel talks about the 18th century Polish-Jewish leader Jacob Frank. Olga Tokarczuk was born on 29 January 1962 in Sulechów, in Poland. She trained as a psychologist at the University of Warsaw from 1980. She graduated in 1985. She moved to Wroclaw and then to Walbrzych. Then she started working as a therapist.

A disciple of Carl Jung, Olga was inspired by the theories of the Swiss therapist before turning her attentions to the literary world. She has lived in a small village near Nowa Ruda since 1998. She owns and manages RUTA, her own private publisher. Olga is a member of the political party – The Greens (Poland) and strongly believes in left wing ideas. Olga Tokarczuk’s successful literary journey started from her debut as a poet in 1989, with “Miasta W Lustrach” – “Cities in mirrors”, a poetry collection. She debuted as a writer of novels with “Podróz Ludzi Ksiegi” – “the journey of the Book-People”, a 1993 novel. The novel tells the story of a parable on the research of two lovers for the “Secret of the book” – a metaphor of the meaning of life. The novel is set in 17th century France and gained Olga great popularity.

Olga is the first Polish writer to win the international prize Man Booker for her beloved country, Poland. Olga Tokarczuk, who is particularly noted for the characteristic mythical tone of her writing, is a controversial figure in her homeland, because she is an activist and a critic of the right wing policies of Poland. However, she has enriched Polish literature with impeccable writing and this occasion is the biggest of all. 

Hats off to her!