Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, along with translator Jennifer Croft, has won this year’s Man Booker International Prize. The pair will share the £50,000 prize equally, for the winning novel, Flights. The novel uses a series of linked fragments to take readers’ imaginations from the 17th century to the present day, with travel and human anatomy as the recurring themes. The work explores everything from a wandering Slavic sect to a 17th century Flemish anatomist to an unsettled modern traveler.
Author and cultural commentator Lisa Appignanesi, Chair of the Man Booker International Prize judging panel, comments:
“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.”
The Man Booker International Prize exists to celebrate the best works of contemporary fiction in translation around the world. It recognises the value that literary translation brings to the world of fiction by rewarding the author and translator equally.
Olga Tokarczuk is already a bestselling author in Poland and has won multiple awards for her fiction writing. Thanks to literary translation, her work is now becoming recognised in the English-speaking world as well. Her training as a psychologist is reflected in her writing, with the Financial Times referring to Flights as “A philosophical tale for our frantic times.”
An outspoken intellectual, feminist and vegetarian, Tokarczuk is no stranger to controversy in her native Poland. Over the years she has been denounced as a “targowiczanin” (an ancient Polish term for traitor) and accused of being an anti-Christian promoter of eco-terrorism. At one stage, her publisher hired bodyguards to protect her.
Jennifer Croft, Flights’ translator, is the founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review and holder of an MFA in Literary Translation. She translates into English from Polish, Ukrainian and Argentinian Spanish, having lived in Buenos Aires for seven years. Her translation focuses on the minutiae of the literature that she works on. Using Spanish as an example, Croft states:
“I only translate works from Spanish that were written by Argentine authors—there’s such great diversity among the different Spanishes, and I’ve always felt it’s really important to be fully familiar with all the little components of speech, the quotidian rhythms writers employ and depart from. It’s important for me to be able to hear the tone of a sentence, picture the facial expression and gestures that would accompany it, in order to find a fitting rendition in English.”
Her Polish language skills, which have now netted her the £25,000 award for her work on Flights, are the result of two years spent living and studying in Poland on a Fulbright grant.
The Man Booker International Prize is an important means of promoting the value of translated fiction. Works by authors of varied backgrounds can open windows into other cultures for readers of all ages, and the Man Booker International Prize celebrates that at the very highest level. Its recognition of the importance of literary translation is a reminder of how much translation can enrich our lives.
Do you agree with the judges that Flights was the best of the bunch from this year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist? If not, which author and translator do you think should have taken home the prize? Leave a comment to let us know.