FELICITATIONS A OLGA TOKARCZUK Lauréate du prix Man Booker International 2018 (résidente au Château de Lavigny en 1997)
CONGRATULATION TO OLGA TOKARCZUK! Winner of Man Booker International Prize 2018 (Chateau de Lavigny former resident 1997)
Olga Tokarczuk's 'extraordinary' Flights wins Man Booker International prize | Books
Olga Tokarczuk has become the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International prize, which goes to the best work of translated fiction from anywhere in the world.
More than 100 novels were submitted for the 2018 award, and Tokarczuk’s Flights saw off work by two former winners – South Korea’s Han Kang and Hungary’s László Krasznahorkai – to secure the £50,000 prize, which is shared equally with her English translator Jennifer Croft.
Tokarczuk is a bestselling author in Poland, where she has won numerous awards and is a household name. In Flights, she meditates on travel and human anatomy, moving between stories including the Dutch anatomist who discovered the Achilles tendon when dissecting his own amputated leg, and the tale of Chopin’s heart as his sister transported it from Paris to Warsaw.
“It isn’t a traditional narrative,” said chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi, pointing to Tokarczuk’s own description of her writing as “constellation novels” to describe an author who throws her stories into orbit, allowing her readers to form meaningful shapes from them. “We loved the voice of the narrative – it’s one that moves from wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture and has the ability to create character very quickly, with interesting digression and speculation.”
The book’s themes – “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” – collide in Tokarczuk’s “extraordinary” stories, said Appignanesi. She also praised the novel’s translation by Croft, an American who translates from Polish, Spanish and Ukrainian and is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.
Selecting Flights from a shortlist that also featured the Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina, Iraq’s Ahmed Saadawi and France’s Virginie Despentes was “so hard”, said Appignanesi, but Tokarczuk is “a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache” who has “has written a great many books that sound amazing, but which haven’t been translated yet”.
“We really felt this is a prize that has an interventionist quality – it allows writers to be better known in Britain, and in the English language, than they have been previously,” said Appignanesi. Flights, which is published by the tiny independent press Fitzcarraldo Editions, is only the third of Tokarczuk’s 10 books to be published in English. Her 2009 novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is due out in September 2018, while The Books of Jacob, a 900-page historical epic that sold 170,000 copies in hardback in Poland and won her a Nike award – known as “the Polish Booker” – for the second time back in 2014, is due out in 2019.
A public intellectual, activist and vocal critic of Poland’s increasingly rightwing politics, Tokarczuk’s opinions have occasionally outraged some in her home country. A film adaptation of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – titled Pokot (Spoor) – was denounced by a Polish news agency as “a deeply anti-Christian [work] that promoted eco-terrorism”. And on national television in 2014, she said Poland had committed “horrendous acts” of colonisation at times in its history, leading to her publisher having to hire bodyguards to protect her. “I was very naive. I thought we’d be able to discuss the dark areas in our history,” she told the Guardian in an interview last month.
According to Appignanesi, translated fiction is “incredibly important”, particularly today, “when we seem to have this recrudescence of a kind of nationalism that would rather have insularity and homegrown-ness as the way of the world”.
Appignanesi was joined on the judging panel by poet and translator Michael Hofmann, the novelists Hari Kunzru and Helen Oyeyemi and journalist Tim Martin.
The Man Booker International prize delivers a reliable increase in sales for the winning book. Han’s The Vegetarian, which won in 2016, sparked a 400% increase in sales of Korean literature in the UK, while A Horse Walks Into a Bar, the 2017 winner by Israel’s David Grossman, saw its sales increase by 1,367% in the week following the award, with the publisher Penguin going through 10 reprints in a year.
Tokarczuk and Croft were presented with their awards on Tuesday night at a ceremony in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk is available at guardianbookshop.com.