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With Fire and Sword Henryk Sienkiewicz

With Fire and Sword

Henryk Sienkiewicz

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 About the Book 

November 2009When Henryk Sienkiewicz (Sin-KAY-vitch) won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Literature because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer, this is what the Swedish Academy was talking about. At over 1100 pages, With Fire and Sword is only the first book of a trilogy--known as The Trilogy in Poland, where it is practically a national epic, having sustained Poland’s cultural identity and morale thoughout decades of Nazi and Communist rule during the last century (see the foreword by James A. Michener and the introduction for further detail). And yet, despite its status, this novel--as well as the rest of the Trilogy--remain mostly unknown and unread throughout the rest of the world.The action takes place throughout Poland in the late 1640s, during the Hmyelnitzki Uprising, when Bohdan Hmyelnitzki led a massive rebellion of Cossacks, peasants, and Turks against the Polish gentry of the doomed Commonwealth. If all that flies over your head, dont worry: my knowledge of Polish history is just as lacking.But With Fire and Sword isnt a dull, plodding historical novel. These are the adentures of the noble Yan Skshetuski, a soldier in the service of Prince Yeremi Vishnovyetzki, who serves his country even as he fights for the love of a princess- Longinus Podbipyenta, a giant of a man, sworn to celibacy until he can behead three foes at once with the sword of his ancestors- Michal Volodyovski, the smallest swordsman- and Pan Zagloba, the greatest drinker and liar of them all. Their adventures, as they defend their country, seek true love, fight for honor, and risk their livers for yet another drink, are thrilling, epic, extraordinary...and, let’s face it, far better, and more interesting, than anything that hack Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace. Twice the battles and none of that philosophy of history nonsense.The W. S. Kuniczak translation is supposed to be the only version worth reading (and probably the only modern translation into English anyway), so readers should stick with that. It’s not perfect, and there are some typographical errors here and there (most notably two Chapter Thirty-Fives), but nothing to distract from the story. Also, despite its name, The Trilogy is actually four books: the second book, The Deluge, nearly tops 2000 pages and had to be published in two volumes, while the third installment, Fire on the Steppe, falls in the 700-800 range...which may be one reason few people have read the books. At a hefty 4000 pages, The Trilogy takes time, effort, and quite a lot of dedication...says the guy who hasnt finished it yet.---March 2012Attempted reread, but cant seem to focus on it the second time around. Still want to give it another try (and read the rest of The Trilogy), so I think Ill start again in a few months.---