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Polish novelist wins Man Booker International Prize

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk poses for photographs during the London Book Fair, in London, Britain, 15 March 2017. The LBF runs from 14 to 16 March. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

An English translation of Polish novel "Flights", which interweaves narratives of travel with explorations of the human body, was on Tuesday named as the winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.

The novel by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft, won the £50,000 (57,000 euros, $67,000) prize after coming top of a shortlist of six titles.

The money will be split between the author and translator.

“Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache,” said head judge Lisa Appignanesi as the winner was announced at a ceremony in London.

“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,” Appignanesi added.

“Flights” recounts a sheaf of stories on Tokarczuk’s theme, including the 17th century tale of Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen, who dissected and drew pictures of his own amputated leg and the 19th century story of Chopin’s heart as it makes the covert journey from Paris to Warsaw after his death.

British paper The Guardian called the novel “a passionate and enchantingly discursive plea for meaningful connectedness, for the acceptance of ‘fluidity, mobility, illusoriness’” in its review of June 2017.

The Financial Times wrote: “The story of a woman who is perpetually travelling is a philosophical tale for our frantic times.”

“The book’s prose is a lucid medium in which narrative crystals grow to an ideal size, independent structures not disturbing the balance of the whole,” wrote Adam Mars-Jones in the London Review of Books.

Tokarczuk is the author of eight novels and two short-story collections whilst Croft is an accomplished translator of Polish, Spanish and Ukrainian.

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the English translations of works of international literature. DM

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