May 6, 2007


Time to lift glass to great Polish writer (John Kass, May 6, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

If you're celebrating Cinco de Mayo, I ask you to raise a good glass of beer, a strong Polish beer like Zagloba, and toast the birthday of a great Polish patriot.

Henryk Sienkiewicz -- the Nobel laureate whose wonderful novels of battles and intrigue and love and betrayal commonly known as "The Trilogy" helped give birth to modern Poland -- was born on May 5, 1846.

No offense to Mexican patriots is intended. The news will be full of Cinco de Mayo stories this weekend. But Sienkiewicz and the Poles should not be forgotten, either.

"Zagloba beer? Why not?" said Alex Kurczaba, professor of Slavic literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "I like beer. Quite honestly, you have just given me a thought. I am going to go out and taste."

Me, too. And if not beer, then honey mead in mass quantities, something that Zagloba, one of literature's great characters, would have endorsed.

Zagloba, the fat and crafty one-eyed Polish knight, loved his mead and would indulge from time to time unless he was busy tricking his way through disaster, or bragging about the Turkish sultan allowing him free access to the harem, or saving the beautiful Helen from the Tartars on the Steppe, or charging the Cossacks with sword drawn to avenge his friends.

And you thought "Braveheart" was a compelling story? Try this one. I won't give any more away, but the trickster Zagloba and his three friends -- Yan and Michal and their gentle giant buddy Longinus and his great sword "Cowlsnatcher" -- are waiting for you in "With Fire and Sword," the first book of Sienkiewicz's trilogy.

One warning though, be sure you get the W. S. Kuniczak translation, not the old Jeremiah Curtin one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 6, 2007 6:52 PM

Thanks for the recommendation. I remembered that I wanted to recommend to you Michel Gondry's newest film, The Science of Sleep. I just loved it. The ending is nothing less than sublime. I know you really enjoyed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Let me know what you think.

Posted by: Qiao Yang at May 7, 2007 2:43 AM

Speaking of Sienkiewicz-- a fantastic film of "Quo Vadis" is now available on DVD at Amazon. It's not the 1951 Deborah Kerr version (which was good enough), but is instead a 2001 Polish-language miniseries--the most expensive movie ever produced in Poland, over 4 hours, and incredibly faithful to the novel. Very well recommended.

Posted by: Mairnéalach at May 7, 2007 6:35 AM

Has W. S. Kuniczak translated the second and third volume of the trilogy?

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 7, 2007 8:17 AM

Yes, The Trilogy and the great Quo Vadis. There are also good modern translations of Teutonic Knights and In Desert Wilderness.

Posted by: oj at May 7, 2007 8:42 AM


Thanks, the local library has it--I'll check it out.

Posted by: oj at May 7, 2007 8:45 AM

Yikes, each vol. is $60+????

Posted by: erp at May 7, 2007 9:52 AM

Speaking of Quo Vadis--I've felt since The Passion that Mel Gibson should make a new version. It's got all the sex & violence you could want in a modern blockbuster, with the Christian setting & message as well. It'd crush box office records.

Posted by: b at May 7, 2007 10:58 AM

I was able to get With Fire & Sword for around $20. Just keep checking Amazon or ABE and you should be able to pick a used copy for around that price. I now have The Deluge (broken into 2 volumes), but was only able to find a copy for $95 - and that was a relatively cheap version.

The Kuniczak translation is a fine read, but the book suffers from the typical flaws of 19th century literature: it's too long. Since books like these were often serialized in newspapers first, I think the authors were paid by the word and it shows. I think a modern editor could have cut out about 300 pages and it would not have affected the story. The beginning and ending are very good, but some of the endless trekking back and forth across the Ukrainian steppe in the middle is repetitive.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at May 7, 2007 11:00 AM

The novels are great. Dont overlook the recent movie versions.;_ylt=ApoBhxtB.WK1ZZYrrKgof2NDR60B;_ylu=X3oDMTBudHRxZXFzBF9zAzk1OTUxMTEzBHNlYwNhY3Rwcm9k

I recently got the whole set. The movie versions of the Sienkiewicz stories gave an insight into the dual familiarity and otherness of the milieu. The world Sienkiewicz presents was so much like the Wild West--the frontier, the contact with the not-folk. Scenes are set in small wooden fortresses, straight out of Last of the Mohicans

Watch the films and feel the Dombrowski March--the Sons of Freedom surrounded by the alien hordes.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 7, 2007 11:27 AM

I'll personally lend a copy of With Fire and Sword to anybody here who wants it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 7, 2007 2:28 PM

Chris, I don't mind the epics being long and uber-detailed if they're well written, it's treat like an endless ice cream sundae.

I got a used copy of "With Fire & Sword" for under $20 but gave it to the library as I do with all the books after I've read them. Our local library has "Fire in the Steppe" which I'm looking forward to reading. The librarian will look for a copy of "The Deluge" in English. If you can believe it, they had a copy written in Polish.

Posted by: erp at May 7, 2007 4:48 PM


He never actually saw the Steppes, but based them on his travels in the American West.

Ever read Karl May or about the German Karl May societies?

Posted by: oj at May 7, 2007 8:10 PM

I got copies recently on PAPERBACK SWAP.COM


The question is why didn't Ridley Scott remake it instead of giving the Gladiator such a mushy religion.

Posted by: oj at May 7, 2007 8:11 PM