Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Jill's take on Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

I wish I could remember where we purchased Flights, because it seems a germane book about travel and tourism and arriving and departing. But alas, I can’t remember for the life of me. Maybe Zac will. At any rate, when I saw Flights I was first drawn in by the cover (as I usually am) and the fact that Tokarczuk won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for this work. I don’t generally follow books that win certain awards, but I have come to find that I enjoy those that win the Booker. I was also intrigued with the format of the book - missives, essays, short stories - all crumbled up together in one binding. It felt different. It felt like it does to travel; sometimes you’re in one place for a long time and other times it’s like ping pong bouncing in and out of locations.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s about 400 pages long and I felt a slog through much of it. I should admit I have a difficult time with short story compilations as I find that I am just getting into a story and then I need to move on to other tales. It’s difficult for my brain to switch off so quickly. Tokarczuk does wind some common threads throughout the book - plastination of bodies, travel psychology, travel itself and relationships. But it is fragmented. So much so that I found myself just thinking “hmmm…that was an interesting though random bit.”

But this doesn’t make it bad; just challenging for someone like me that likes cohesion. I loved her turn of phrase and the images created were impeccable. I found myself really visualizing where I was and what i was seeing, which is always a bonus for me. I was mostly engaged with the language of the book, rather than the stories themselves.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed this book, though it felt a bit like work. I was wanting it to express more about travel, loneliness, struggle and what it means to be a traveler in the 21st century. I suppose I was wanting to feel connected to someone writing about how I’ve chosen to live my life. Perhaps I should write about that myself.

Zac's take on Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Sadly I don’t remember where we picked up this book. I can picture the inside of the bookstore quite nicely. Wide plank floors, big wood tables with piles of books laying flat. I want to say Singapore, but that may not be right.

But this right here, this phantom memory of a bookstore that could be anywhere is kinda core to this book. There are dozens of little episodes like this. Confusion, time being mixed and places jumbled, as if the entire pile of your travel memories were pieces of a puzzle and shoved into a box. On occasion you reach into it and pull out a memory and examine it, but it’s missing key elements.

This is how we live our lives now that we travel full time. Memories get fused together bound by fog and exhaust and are burnished with exhaustion and fatigue or tinted with boredom. Sometimes adjacent memories get tacked on like a visit to a coffee shop that same afternoon, when in reality the coffee shop was 10 months ago and thousands of miles away. Or maybe we didn’t get coffee that afternoon after all.

So much of Flights resonated with me for this very reason. It did get a little too philosophical and esoteric, but it was intentional. Some of the stories were solid stand alone stories, others were fragments. Nearly all of them had an aspect of travel to them. An aspect of memory.

It all seemed so familiar, both the distortion of travel and the distortion of memory. The places we’ve been to in the book seemed familiar, but different as seen through a strangers eyes.

I don’t think this book is for everybody, but it’s definitely right up my alley.