Olga Tokarczuk: Flights

The main motivation for reading this book was in knowing that it recounts the transit of Chopin’s heart back to Warsaw while his body was interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Every classical musician knows this strangely romantic story of how his homesick heart finally returned home; but naturally, I also wanted to read it narrated by a Nobel winner.

Flights turned out to be an unexpected reading experience. It is a literary collage written the way the author describes postcards nowadays: “Postcards of landscapes, panoramas of old ruins, postcards ambitiously prepared so as to show as much as possible on that flat surface, are slowly being replaced by photographs focusing on details.  This is no doubt a good idea, because they relieve tired minds. There is too much world, so it’s better to concentrate on particulars, rather than the whole.”

And so she does. These details and particulars in question are the mind, the soul, psychology, the physical brain, the heart, and the entire human body; which, ironically, also turns out to be “so much world.” It is a travel book with emotional itineraries and mental maps. A special trip around, or more accurately, inside the world. But in its entirety, it is an unusual research on pain, and a unique meditation on traveling, space, time, and movement.

The literary phases of my life have always been geographic, I now realize. Even my shelves are organized based on geography. Russia on the topmost shelf, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom on the succeeding tiers, and so on… and there’s the presently expanding Fertile Crescent and Silk Route section. Tokarczuk being Polish might seem like a veering away from my current authors of choice, and yet, the undeniable influence of the Arabian Nights is still lurking in this masterpiece. Even though I have a feeling that this book will ultimately settle down in the Eastern European section beside Kundera, this one feels like it belongs to each and every section.

As it is with masterpieces, this one transcends geography.

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