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Ask around a bit and you'll find no shortage of folks, men in particular, who became readers via their encounters in youth with class adventure tales: The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, Ivanhoe, the Lord of the Rings, etc. ask again and you'll find almost no one whose heard of half the Nobel Laureates in Literature, fewer who've read them, and none enjoyed many of them. All the more remarkable then that one of the great adventure authors of all time actually won a Nobel and somewhat tragic that so few have read him in recent decades. But Henryk Sienkiewicz has made something of a comeback and it could not be more welcome.

Sienkiewicz is the great author of Poland--indeed, to some extent his works are said to have created and helped to maintain the strong Polish identity that prevailed through the troubled 20th Century. When his books were first published -- mostly late in the 19th Century -- the English translations were done by Teddy Roosevelt's friend Jeremiah Curtin and, whether they were adequate for their time, they are are terribly dated now and have served to put off potential readers. Add in the fact that neither the Nazis nor the Communists had much interest in fostering Polish patriotism and you've the recipe for lost classics. But then, fittingly as the Iron Curtain was crumbling, Hippocrene Books commissioned a new translation of his greatest works, The Trilogy and Quo Vadis?, by the highly-regarded Polish novelist W. S. Kuniczak, and these eminently readable versions won Sienkiewicz a modern audience. New translations of other works followed, then a terrific film version of In Desert and Wilderness, and a massive Polish television adaptation of the Trilogy. Suddenly we've a surfeit of riches and some catching up to do.

If you're just starting out it might be wise to begin with Quo Vadis?, a stand alone tale of Christians in Rome that really deserves a fresh film treatment. But it's well worth your time to dive into the Trilogy, the first volume of which is the magnificent With Fire and Sword. Set in 1647, amidst a Cossack uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it tells the story of a young Polish patriot and hero, Yan Skshetuski, and his love for the beautiful Helen, who is also coveted the brutal Bohun, who fights with the rebels. Pan Yan's twin tales give us epic history and grand romance, while his compatriots offer comic relief. There's his wily servant, Zjendjan, whose semi-faithful service somehow keeps lining his own pocket. There's the mopey giant Pan Longinus, who has sworn a vow of chastity until he lives up to the example of his forebears and takes off the heads of three enemy soldiers with one swing of his massive battle sword. There's Pan Michal Wolodyjowski, whose bravery and feistiness belie his diminutive stature. And, best of all, there's the Falstaffian Pan Zagloba, who makes up in drinking capacity, gluttony, and biting wit what he lacks in zeal for battle, as he keeps his one good eye peeled for threats to his corpulent frame.

It'll take you a hundred to a hundred and fifty pages to orient yourself and get used to the odd names and nicknames, but the subsequent thousand pages go by far too fast. It's one of those stories you don't ever want to end.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Henryk Sienkiewicz (2 books reviewed)
Historical Fiction
Henryk Sienkiewicz Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Henryk Sienkiewicz
    -WIKIPEDIA: With Fire And Sword
    -AWARD: Henryk Sienkiewicz (The Nobel Prize in Literature 1905)
    -BIO: Henryk Sienkiewicz (
    -BIO: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish writer (Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -BIO: Henryk Sienkiewicz 1846-1916 (Polish American Center)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916) (IMDB)
    -INFO: HENRYK SIENKIEWICZ (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -TRIBUTE: Henryk Sienkiewicz (Lacy Lockert, Jul., 1919, The Sewanee Review)
    -ESSAY: New Light on the Relationship between Henryk Sienkiewicz and Jeremiah Curtin (Michael J. Mikos, Summer, 1991, Slavic Review)
    -ESSAY: From Karl Marx to Jesus Christ: The novel Quo Vadis converts a disillusioned Communist to Christianity. (Ignace Lepp, JANUARY 7, 2023, Plough)
    -ESSAY: Henryk Sienkiewicz and Quo Vadis (Peter K. Gessner, InfoPoland, University of Buffalo)
    -ESSAY: Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz and "Quo Vadis" (Brian Hoey. May 2, 2015. Books Tell You Why)
    -BLOG: With Fire and Sword
-ESSAY: Polishing Up a Classic 'Trilogy' (ELIZABETH MEHREN, 5/12/91, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Kuniczak's Trilogy
    -ESSAY: When Writers Turn Translators : Notes on W. S. Kuniczak's translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy (James R. Thompson, September 1992, Sarmation Review)
    -ESSAY: Critics on Kuniczak
    -ESSAY: The Tragedy of W. S. Kuniczak (Polish American Cultural Center)
    -PROFILE: A Visit With A Writer: W.s. `Jack` Kuniczak, Who Has Worked As A Journalist, Novelist, Teacher And Translator Around The Globe, Weaves His Stories In Quakertown Area While Recuperating From Surgery. (LISA KOZLESKI, 11/30/97, The Morning Call)
    -PROFILE: A New Audience For A Polish Epic : Henryk Sienkiewicz's Trilogy Is Appearing In A New English Version, Thanks To A Local Pair - A Writer And His Sponsor. (John Corr, 6/01/91, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -EBOOK ARCHIVE: Books by Sienkiewicz, Henryk (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO BOOK ARCHIVE: Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846 - 1916) (LibriVox)
    -REVIEW: of Fire And Sword (Larry Swindell, Orlando Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of The Deluge by Henryk Siemkiewicz (John Zawadzinski, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of The Deluge (Publishers weekly)


    -PODCAST: The Jagiellonians: the dynasty that shaped central Europe (History Extra, 4/19/22)
    -ESSAY: It’s Time to Bring Back the Polish-Lithuanian Union: A political construct created nearly 700 years ago offers solutions for Europe today. (Dalibor Rohac, 3/26/23, Foreign Policy)

Book-related and General Links: