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[Saturday Reads] The Witchy Transcendence of Transience in “Flights”

Olga Tokarczuk's Nobel-Prize winning "Flights."


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

Flights (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Olga Tokarczuk
Published by Riverhead Books (2018, first published 2007) Original Title: Bieguni
ISBN: 0525534199 (ISBN13: 9780525534198). Literary Awards: Nike Literary Award (Nagroda Literacka Nike) (2008), BTBA Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Longlist (2019), Angelus Nominee (2008), National Book Award Finalist for Translated Literature (2018), Man Booker International Prize (2018), Mikael Agricola -palkinto (2013), Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Nominee for Shortlist (2018). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me and edited with an iPhone app. Book quote layouts done via Typorama.

Before I share my rambling thoughts here, let it be known that this is a case of a book finding its right reader at the right time. As most of you who have been following our blog for awhile now may know, we have just recently moved from Singapore to the United Arab Emirates. Hence, the concept of flight or leaving or being in the in-between is something that my spirit gravitates towards. Reading the first few pages of this fragmented, snippets-style-narrative assured me that I needed to feed off whatever energy is being released into the ether through Tokarczuk’s prose:

This is a book that rummages through the sand for truth, beauty, meaning. I enjoyed the frequent mention of psychology – be it the decidedly-strange travel psychology practiced in airports, or the empirical and social sciences background of the narrator who is detached, seemingly-oblivious, removed from everything – yet sharp and incisive and all-perceiving at the same time.

There is a searching tone to the narrative that is ever-so-subtle – yet the core groundedness is in the movement itself, the shifts from one to the other, the evolution from something to another, in a place different from the one you have awakened from yesterday. Kind of like the earth spinning on its own axis, ever changing, even while it revolves around the sun. There is a resistance to staying put, to being predictable, to living the dreary, routine, expected existence.

I also especially enjoyed the references to language, which I feel would resonate with most of my linguist friends:

The notion of English as the sole language of transaction, while grudgingly acknowledged, is commodified here, and perceived only as a means to an end, like a suit that one can discard or return to the store after wearing. It is not the currency of one’s core being, it does not contain one’s most intimate thoughts, or the only means to establish one’s connectedness both to the self and another.

Another quote that spoke to me deeply is this one:

In the Philippines, there is this adage which goes: “Ang sinumang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa patutunguhan” which roughly translates to A person who does not acknowledge his past or his beginnings – will never get to where he is going. To admit that one is repelled by one’s origins or beginnings is anathema to anyone who has moved on to different places. It is like inviting bad juju. Yet there is a fearless statement to this utterance that defies karmic punishments. Rather, it is a piercing truth that lacerates the lacey-niceties and polite-utterances that surround casual conversations that tiptoe around political correctness so as not to offend – when one’s very existence or movement or evolution is already in itself an object of resentment to those who have decided to remain where they are, staying put, while another has moved further and farther away.

The above quote is what makes me see this book as one that not so much as searches but rummages for maybe a pearl or a seashell or a coral somewhere. It moves unceasingly yet there is a stillness too that is self-contained. How admirable.

I admit to not really understanding much of what Tokarczuk wants to say here, especially all those allusions about embalming or the care for dead bodies – they just went right through my head. The edition that I bought also has a plain and unattractive cover – yet, regardless, this book made me stop and breathe in the world just a bit differently for a smidgen of a second.

#WomenReadWomen2019: 38 (out of target 25): Poland

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Saturday Reads] The Witchy Transcendence of Transience in “Flights”

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My 2019 in Books: Favourite Reads Across Quarterly Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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