Flights, which was awarded Poland's biggest literary prize in 2008, is a novel about travel in the twenty-first century and human anatomy. From the seventeenth century, we have the story of the real Dutch anatomist Philip Verheyen, who dissected and drew pictures of his own amputated leg, discovering in so doing the Achilles tendon.
From the eighteenth century, we have the story of a North African-born slave turned Austrian courtier stuffed and put on display after his death in spite of his daughter's ever more desperate protests, as well as the story of Chopin's heart as it makes the covert journey from Paris to Warsaw, stored in a tightly sealed jar beneath his sister's skirt supports. From the present we have the trials and tribulations of a wife accompanying her much older professor husband as he teaches a course on a cruise ship in the Greek islands, or the quest of a Polish woman who immigrated to New Zealand as a teen but must now return in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, or the slow descent into madness of a young husband whose wife and child mysteriously vanished on a vacation on a Croatian island and then appeared again with no explanation.
These narratives are interspersed with short bursts of analysis that enrich and connect them, including digressions on relics, travel-sized cosmetics, belly dancing, maps, the Maori, Wikipedia, Cleopatra, Ataturk, the effects of airports on the psyche, and many more rich and varied topics. Perfectly intertwining travel narratives and reflections on travel with observations on the body and on life and death, Olga Tokarczuk guides the reader beyond the surface layer of modernity and deeper and deeper towards the core of the very nature of humankind.