1st Polish writer to win Man Booker prize writes on Jewish-Polish themes

Best-selling author Olga Tokarczuk wins 2018 award for "Flights" but came under attack in 2014 for "The Book of Jacob."

May 23, 2018 20:34
1 minute read.

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk wins Man Booker International Prize, May 23, 2018 (Reuters)

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk wins Man Booker International Prize, May 23, 2018 (Reuters)


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Best-selling author Olga Tokarczuk became the first Polish author to win the Man Booker International prize on Tuesday for her novel Flights.

"I would like to also mention that I am the very first winner of this International Man Booker Prize as a Pole, with the Polish language," she said in her acceptance speech, "which I'm very proud [of]."

"I don't believe in national literature," she stated, "I really do believe that literature is like a live being, [a] creature which pops up in one language and then into another through another language. So, this is another miracle - literature."

Tokarczuk will evenly split the 50,000 pound prize [66,750 USD] with her translator to English Jennifer Croft, reported The Guardian.

Flights is set in the 17th to 21st centuries, combining stories of modern-day travel alongside tales of a Dutch anatomist from the 17th century and the tale of Frederic Chopin's sister transporting his heart after the composer died.

This is not the first time Tokarczuk has gained the attention of the media.

In her 2014 novel "The Book of Jacob" she presented the Polish audience with a very different historical reality than the one usually celebrated, that of harmonious Polish-Jewish relations as coined by Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz.

Mickiewicz penned into his epic poem Pan Tadeusz a wedding scene in which the Polish celebration is only made better by Jewish musicians who are cherished and welcomed. The poem is still taught today as a gem of Polish literature to school children. 

In contrast, The Book of Jacob focuses on the life of Jacob Frank, an 18th-century Jewish cultist, and presents Poles as a people who can be tolerant at times but also cruel and oppressive, to Jews as well as to serfs and Ukrainians.

Polish Senator Waldemar Bonkowski [Law and Justice Party] slammed the author when the book was published for her depiction of Polish history.

After receiving threats, her publishers provided her with a security detail for a week.

Tokarczuk responded to her critics in an interview given to Gazeta Wyborca in December 2015 saying that she is "the true patriot, not the nationalist who burns an effigy of a Jew."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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