"Our narrator is a wanderer who is intimately attuned to the rhythms of modern travel, with its airport ennui and fleeting conversations; the white whale of the book is the human body itself, pursued through a series of narratives - some fictional and some, like the freaky story of the posthumous journey of Chopin's heart, based on historical events - that circle around the amputation of limbs, the embalming of corpses, and the mysterious border between life and death".
Tokarczuk is one of Poland's most popular writers but has also been heavily crticized by nationalists for her writing.
The prize is a counterpart to the Man Booker Prize for English-language novels and is open to books in any language that have been translated into English. Prior to 2016, the prize was awarded biennially to a body of work.
Tokarczuk is a bestselling author in Poland, where she has won numerous awards and is a household name.
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Other books on the shortlist for this year's prize included French author Virginie Despentes' Vernon Subutex 1; South Korean author Han Kang's The White Book; Hungarian author Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The World Goes On; Spanish author Antonio Munoz Molina's Like A Fading Shadow; and Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein In Baghdad.
After receiving threats, her publishers provided her with a security detail for a week. "I thought we'd be able to discuss the dark areas in our history", she told the Guardian in an interview last month.
Appignanesi was joined on the judging panel by poet and translator Michael Hofmann, the novelists Hari Kunzru and Helen Oyeyemi and journalist Tim Martin. Han's The Vegetarian, which won in 2016, sparked a 400% increase in sales of Korean literature in the United Kingdom, while A Horse Walks Into a Bar, the 2017 victor by Israel's David Grossman, saw its sales increase by 1,367% in the week following the award, with the publisher Penguin going through 10 reprints in a year. Tokarczuk and Croft were presented the award at a ceremony in Victoria and Albert Museum here on late Tuesday night.