Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turning to Henryk Sienkiewicz

One of my favorite authors (if not my absolute favorite) is Henryk Sienkiewicz. He wrote what is in my opinion one of the best - if not the best - piece of literature I've ever read (The Deluge), however I love almost everything I've ever read by him. So after being run over by the nihilistic steamroller that was Celine's Journey to the End of the Night and deciding my next read had to be something by an author whose works are more on the heroic side, I turned to Henryk.

He's huge in Poland, and I am half Polish! He achieved his success largely based on three novels he wrote called 'the Trilogy'. The Trilogy is a historical saga with a highly nationalistic themes set during the Polish Commonwealth of the 1600s. The novels were written at a time when Poland had lost its independence so, in some ways, they were a bolster to the pride of the Polish people. Each of the three novels is massive. The first book of the Trilogy is With Fire and Sword which comes in at 1,135 pages. It's also the first book of his that I read. The second book in the Trilogy (The Deluge) is 1,761 pages, while the final novel (Pan Michael) is a mere 714 pages. But the page counts don't matter. All the books in the Trilogy, especially the first two, are epic adventures. Real page-turners in every sense of the word.

There are several reason his books grab me so much. First, his characters are awesome. I can't imagine anyone not falling in love with the always ready to go drinking, cowardly...rather sketchy...but when the chips are down fiercely loyal Pan Zagloba. It's impossible not to like and root for tomboy Basia. Pan Yan is the epitome of 'hero' and he's a fantastic protagonist. Not only are the characters involving, but the plots are epic in scope and fantastic reads. On top of this, Sienkiewicz creates a strong thematic backdrop for those looking for such things.

Aside from his many adventure novels, he wrote Quo Vadis about the rise of Christianity during the Roman Empire. He also penned a more interior novel in Without Dogma, earning the deep admiration of none other than the brilliant Leo Tolstoy. The quality of Sienkiewicz's work ultimately won him the 1905 Nobel Prize for Literature.

So, as I said, when I needed some fresher air after Celine. Sienkiewicz was the first author I thought to turn to. This time, I'm tackling the final major novel of his that I have not read: Children of the Soil. I have little information about the plot, so I'm flying blind here. But so far I'm enjoying it very much.

If you want to try out Sienkiewicz, I would suggest either In Desert and Wilderness (his 'children's story'), Quo Vadis, or With Fire and Sword.

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