[The JRB Daily] Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘startling’ novel Flights wins 2018 Man Booker International Prize

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft, has been announced as the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize in London.

The Man Booker International celebrates the finest global fiction in translation, with the winner sharing the £50,000 (about R820 000) prize with their book’s translator. 

‘I am very happy,’ Tokarczuk said in her acceptance speech. ‘I would like to thank you, Jennifer Croft. It was incredible to work together and find someone that is so devoted and with such determination to look for publishers. She campaigned for my work in such a beautiful and fragile way.’

Tokarczuk becomes the first Polish author to win the prize, seeing off competition from more than 100 novels, including work by two former winners, South Korea’s Han Kang and Hungary’s László Krasznahorkai.

‘I’m very proud,’ Tokarczuk said of being the first Polish winner, ‘but I would also like to say that I don’t believe in national literatures. I really do believe that literature is a kind of an alive being, a creature, which can pop up in one language and then in another language.’

Tokarczuk, who is a bestselling author in her home country, concluded her speech by saying she was wearing earrings she had bought the first time she travelled to London in 1987 as a student, when she worked as a maid in one of the city’s ‘very posh hotels’: ‘And now I’m coming back with my earrings as a Man Booker International winner!’

Chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi says: ‘Our deliberations were hardly easy, since our shortlist was such a strong one. But I’m very pleased to say that we decided on the great Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk as our winner.

‘Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache. In Flights, brilliantly translated by Jennifer Croft, by a series of startling juxtapositions she 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 was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Appignanesi, author and cultural commentator, and including Michael Hofmann, poet, reviewer and translator from German; Hari Kunzru, author of five novels including The Impressionist and White Tears; Tim Martin, journalist and literary critic, and Helen Oyeyemi, author of novels, plays and short stories including The Icarus Girl

Last year’s winner was Israeli writer David Grossman, for his novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen. 

The Man Booker International is renowned for the boost it gives to book sales. In the week following the 2017 announcement, sales of A Horse Walks into a Bar increased by 1,367 per cent, and Penguin had to reprint the paperback ten times last year due to ongoing demand. In its first year, the paperback has sold fifty-three times more than Grossman’s previous novel in paperback, Falling Out of Time.



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