Flights – Olga Tokaruczuk, 2007 (tr. Jennifer Croft)

An interesting and weird read for the Second Monday book group – I enjoyed the theme of biological specimens.

In this book I learned

  • Makes me want to read some Emil Cioran
  • I’ve heard of the Ghent Altarpiece but didn’t know it’s also called Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and I hadn’t looked at it closely before
  • Sarira relics

Short quotes

  • The protagonist says she can’t put down roots: “I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement – from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.”
  • Interesting pity for native English speakers: “How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the buttons in the lift!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths.”
  • “I am certain that we cannot recognize the fate grooved into the other side of life for us by the divine Engravers. They must appear to us only once they’ve taken a form intelligible to mankind, in black and white. God writes with his left hand and in mirror writing.”
  • “The more experienced a biologist you become, the longer and harder you look at the complex structures and connections in the biosystem, the stronger your hunch that all animate things cooperate in this growth and bursting, supporting one another. Living organisms give themselves to one another, permit one another to make use of them. If rivalry exists, it is a localised phenomenon, an upsetting of the balance.”
  • “The books set on the shelves show only their spines to people, and it’s as though, thinks Kunicki, you could only see people in profile. They don’t tempt you with their colourful covers, don’t boast with banners on which every word is a superlative; as though being punished, like recruits, they present only their most basic facts: title and author, nothing more.”
  • Message from Polish students traveling to Ireland, written on a air-sickness bag; the narrator wants to find out how it turned out for them. “But I know that writing on bags is something people do only out of anxiety and uncertainty. Neither defeat nor the greatest success are conducive to writing.”

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